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August 15, 2012

To Think Critically

I’ve seen the phrase “critical thinking” tossed around a little bit today, and I initially took comfort in value being placed in such a crucial thing. Then I saw that “critical thinking” was being used as a jab. The assumption goes that if someone critically thinks about something, they will come to the same conclusion. This is generally not the case (perhaps even usually not the case). Two perfectly intelligent people can and do think critically about issues and come to different opinions.

To think about an issue long enough to form an opinion is only the first step of the process. To then think longer, to conduct research, and to acquire a deeper understanding of an issue is important, but it does not make someone a critical thinker. A critical thinker is someone who hears a differing opinion and, rather than rush to judge it or seek to dismiss it, works to understand it. A critical thinker strengthens their understanding not by reinforcing their pre-established viewpoint, no matter how well-researched, but by seeking out different opinions. Even two people who largely agree tend to agree differently.

There is no objective truth that enough critical thinking will lead us towards. Likewise, no one person’s experience or belief is more important than any other’s. It is a sad thing to watch people who, out of frustration of having their perspectives ignored, ignore the perspectives of others. What frustrates me more than people I disagree with being blind to other viewpoints is seeing people I agree with be just as blind. Somewhere a “critical thinker” needs to say enough is enough and try to bridge this divide with the perspective they’ve gained from using their ears to listen and their eyes to see.

Sometimes the best thinking involves giving our minds a rest.