Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. To understand the logical connections between ideas and to detect inconsistencies in reasoning. To solve problems systematically and to identify the relevance and importance of ideas. And perhaps most importantly, to reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.
I have always considered myself to be a critical thinker, but never really took the time to dwell on what that might mean. So I went to the source of all information, Google. Turns out there are many varieties of the subject. Some based on math skills. Some philosophical. Some just exercises in higher education. All with the common thread of using logic for determination, not emotions and desire.
Anyone who has begun to think, places some portion of the world in jeopardy.– John Dewey
Critical thinking comes from the Greek word kritikos, meaning discerning. It’s a deeper type of thinking in which we do not take things for granted but rather where we question, analyze, and evaluate everything that we read, hear, utter, and write. It’s always peeking under the covers.
So, how do you know if you’re a critical thinker or reasoner? Well, how many of these describe you?
- Inquisitive and curious, always seeking the truth
- Fair in your evaluation of evidence and with others’ views
- Skeptical of information
- Perceptive and able to make connections between ideas
- Open-minded and willing to have your beliefs challenged
I clicked yes to all of them. Or at least they are a goal. But I wasn’t convinced, so I took several online quizzes and tests. Some reputable like from Oxford University. Others more playful. But consistently, I rose above the mark where one was considered to be a critical thinker. So apparently it’s a ‘thing’ with me.
So how has this played out in my personal life? And what questions does it pose to me as I ponder the world? Well, let’s start not with a softball, but a hard, flaming, potentially destructive ball of unyielding power … religion.
As with most stories that touch on difficult subjects, and with the times being as tribal as they are, I feel I must first set some caveats. Some asterisks. Some guardrails.
- I have the utmost respect for anyone’s religion and belief system. They bring you comfort and I fully respect your right to worship as you see fit. (As long as you don’t take away this point from others)
- I am an Atheist, but not a preaching one. I have no desire to minister, convert, or shame. I will never try to bend others to my way of thinking. Nor do I accept others that do that very thing.
So what does that have to do with critical thinking? Well … everything.
I won’t bore you with all of the details of why I think as I do. I’m contemplating a separate article on that, but I fear it might violate the rules above. So perhaps I won’t. But, my path to my beliefs came to be because I took everything that I was “taught” and held it up to the light. Compared it with other “facts”. Tried to see what was truth and what was not. I don’t find comfort in answers, but rather in how those answers prove themselves true. Or at least, true enough. Not everything has an answer yet, which is the basic bottom line of my atheism. I don’t need an answer that ends with a period or exclamation point.
Side-skirting the obvious pitfalls of continuing this line of thought for a bit, let’s instead expand it into how it plays out in the real world. Or at least the real world of folks my age who are trying to visualize their second half of life.
- Humans make assumptions, lots of assumptions
- “Knowledge” is imprinted at a young age and is somehow sealed into permanency by the adolescence process
- Assumptions and “Knowledge” are often incorrect
How many of us do things on auto-pilot? Because we’ve always done something that way? Small things like in which pocket ones wallet resides. Big ones like which god one believes in. Or assumptions like how the lifestyle in which one was born into and raised was somehow the “best”. So why challenge those thoughts? Why push back against what we know to be true?
Because I “believe” that this is the absolute essence of Mastering Life. Especially this second half. I think that standing up to every assumption is a wonderful experience no one should deny themselves. At one point in time, I believed that cilantro was horrible. It was never a part of my childhood. It was just in food that was alien to me. Why in the world would I want to experiment with it. No effing way. Until the day I realized that it was already in several foods I loved. That leap in critical thinking … not just taking something at face value with outdated assumptions, but rather looking deeper and at how the facts interact with other facts … brought me one step closer to how I now look at everything.
Imagine, if you will, a life where your number one desire is to explore and find new information. Even if that new info is really just new learnings about old ‘facts’. Where every waking moment brings light and knowledge. Laughter at your old assumptions. Where you crave new experiences because you want to constantly add to your tapestry. Where comfort comes from change. Or at least real truth. That, my friends, is the power of Critical Thinking. And with those skills, Mastery of Life.