Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food for Thought (If Only You'll Eat It...)

Author's note: This follow-up to my last post explains why I wish colleges taught a course in individual, critical thinking.

Food for Thought (If Only You'll Eat It...)

I believe that thinking for oneself has become a lost art.

Perhaps I notice this problem in our culture because I prefer being an independent thinker. I do not like it when I am handed an opinion, or even a fact, and told, "This is the way it is." It's always been my nature to ask the question, "How do you know that's the way it is? Where is the proof? Are you sure?" This seems a logical response to anything I'm told, and I'm rather surprised how many people don't ask these questions.

I mean, truly surprised...because the list of things we're told that no one questions is endless.

My first adult encounter with a failure to sift an idea through the mesh of analysis occurred around 1990-1991, when Bill Clinton emerged as a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. I will not speak of politics right now, but I will admit that I had a major problem with his candidacy—not because he was a Democrat, but because he made promises I knew he couldn't keep. And I knew he couldn't keep them for the simple reason that when he made them, I didn't take them at face value. I'm an independent thinker. I asked questions.

Case in point: Mr. Clinton promised universal health care if elected. Actually, the man had the nerve to assert, "I will do this." (Those "I will" statements cause trouble among humans as well as angels, apparently.) I didn't reject what he said out-of-hand, but I didn't swallow it whole either. Instead, I asked myself, "How can he say that so assuredly? Is that really possible?" I considered all the major players at the companies, HMOs, private and public hospitals, the AMA, doctors, nurses, employers, and the American people. I thought about the major issues involved...private care vs. government-mandated care, freedom to choose doctors, freedom to choose insurance coverage, costs to individuals and corporations, people's reluctance to embrace change of any kind, politicians' love for grandstanding and promoting themselves regardless of how their constituents feel, and so on.

I evaluated all these factors in relation to one another, read between the lines, refused to take "facts" at face-value, hunted down the basis for commentators' conclusions, wondered what wasn't being said. And then I concluded, logically, that a cohesive agreement on universal health care was impossible. Could Bill Clinton keep his promise? No way. The various players in the healthcare system would never come to an agreement. The politicians wouldn't either. And the American public wouldn't agree to pay the taxes it would cost.

Therefore, Clinton could promise all he wanted, but he'd never be able to deliver. His goal wasn't to deliver, but to get elected. Not my kind of candidate. I wouldn't vote for him. Q.E.D.

The process I went through to make that decision is called critical thinking, and it is sorely lacking among college students these days. (I've taught them, and I know.) It's also sorely lacking among older adults who you might otherwise think should know better. But they don't. One of my coworkers in 1992 said she was voting for Clinton because he promised universal health care. When I told her there was no way he could pull it off, she was surprised. When I went over my reasons why, she was even more surprised. She hadn't considered any of what I had considered. And when presented with information that should have colored her decision, she still wouldn't receive it, because she had made up her mind. Without logical thought. She simply swallowed the lure—hook, line and sinker. She wanted it that way.

Unfortunately, we Americans have a dangerous tendency to swallow what we're told. A lack of critical thinking, thinking for oneself, leads us into all sorts of problems. We fail to ask questions, and simply believe things at face value...everything from whether the McDonald's healthy menu is actually healthy to whether a Palestinian state occupying half of Israel is the way to bring peace to the Middle East.

Even we Christians do this to ourselves. We want someone else to tell us what to believe. Or we hear what we want to believe and simply stop there, without looking it up in the Bible or taking it to God in our prayer time to see if what we want to hear is true. Suppose it's not. But also suppose it is, and there's more that God wants us to know about it, to flesh out our thoughts and help us build an even firmer foundation on truth that would save us from trouble down the line. If only we'd take the time to ask questions...

I could go on, but I won't. I simply invite you, as a reader of this blog, to make sure that you always think for yourself. And then I invite you to go a step further by doing what you can to influence those around you to begin thinking for themselves. Critical thinking is a crucial component to solving the problems America faces these days. We won't emerge from our troubles if we simply take things at face value. We must ask questions, analyze everything, and sift until we find the truth. It's just wisdom to live that way. And if we really want the truth, we'll find it. We have a promise from God on that.

I'm leaving you with food for thought. I hope you make a meal of it!

Copyright 2009 Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Author's Note: I got this writing prompt from the One Minute Writer blog, a daily source of topics that writers can use to hone their skills. The idea is to take 60 seconds to answer the writing prompt. The one I've listed below caught my attention because I've taught freshman writing at various community colleges on and off for years. Naturally, I could easily write (or talk) much longer than 60 seconds on this topic, but I'll be good and follow the spirit of One Minute Writer. This is what I came up with in 60 seconds, no edits except to correct typos.

Writing Prompt: Colleges offer courses like English 101 and Biology 101, teaching students the basics of those subjects. What "101" course do you think colleges should offer to help 18-year-old students learn what they really need to know?


Colleges should require all incoming students to take a "How to Think for Yourself" course. Far too many students have learned to be lazy in their analysis...if they even know how to analyze at all. Which means they take everything at face value. Which explains how our elections in this country have become so messed up...

Further note: I may discuss this topic more in a future blog, since it really needs to be fleshed out and explained further. But here's the plus: no typos to correct after all. Wow, I rock.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Transition Rant

Author's note: This is a personal essay I did for my writers' group on the subject of transition. Rest easy... I am no longer in such an uncomfortable time as I've written below. But I thought since we all go through transitions in life, you might enjoy these thoughts!
Getting the Cat Into the Carrier: A Transition Rant
Some people think of “transition” as a mere word. A three-syllable, 25-cent word, but still just a word. It sounds smooth, doesn’t it? Just listen to it flow off the tongue: transition. I can almost hear James Earl Jones reciting the word in his deep, melodious tones, as though it’s the brand name of a fantastic new car that you just have to buy, right now, this very second:
“Visit our showroom today and test drive a new Transition. You’ll be glad you did!”
To some people, transition sounds that bright and exciting. And I get that. Some people want so badly out of where they are now that any change seems good.
But not me. I hate change. And lately, transition has not been giving me a smooth ride the way a luxury sedan should. I’m not cruising down Rodeo Drive like a perfect princess in a sleek Cadillac Transition.
Instead, I’m hurtling up and down some freakish, roller-coaster mountain roads in my possessed, Stephen King’s Christine of a car! This is my current transition: a car from hell with no brakes on steep hills.
Do I need to say how much I hate transitions? Or have I already made myself clear?
Let me make a confession to the brethren. Not long ago, I left my home state of Connecticut to live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And honestly, I thought the transition of leaving Connecticut for Tulsa was the epitome of bad. From Connecticut to Tulsa . . . that’s like Jesus leaving heaven for earth!
Well, okay. That’s a huge exaggeration. I admit it. But that should help you see where I’m coming from. The change of location and culture was so drastic. And unlike Jesus, I didn’t exactly handle my Connecticut–Tulsa transition all that well. Personally, between you and me, I did consider it robbery — highway robbery — to have to leave. And I still do, in a way. Like I said, I’m not a fan of change.
But that transition was a pleasure trip in the Caribbean compared to the one I’m going through now. Right now, I’m doing what I heard someone describe as the “Abraham transition.” That’s the “go to the place I’ll show you” transition — the one where you know things are changing and you have to make some moves, but you have no idea where you’re going to end up.
The Abraham transition is fine and dandy when you’re in the back of the car yelling, “Are we there yet?” to your harried parents in the front seat. But when you’re the one driving because it’s your car, and you’re the one yelling, “Where are we going? Are we there yet?” — Uh, yeah. Not so much fun.
If you want a different metaphor for what the Abraham transition feels like to me, I have the perfect one for you. I feel like a cat that’s being stuffed into an animal carrier. And specifically, I’m being pushed through that tiny door built into the top of the carrier.
Now, if you’ve ever owned a cat at any point in your lifetime, you already know exactly what I mean. But for those who have not had the pleasure of this experience of cat-ownership, let me share it with you:
Cats generally hate being put anywhere they were not already planning to go on their own. Doesn’t matter where it is. It’s just the general idea of being put that they don’t like. The cat therefore says to itself, “Well, I wasn’t planning to go over there. So I’m not going.”
And this form of cat resistance is made at least a hundred times worse when you’re trying to put the cat through the small opening in the top of a cat carrier, because the feeling of going top-down is really, really loathsome to cats for some reason I have not yet been able to determine. After all, they always land on their feet, so why should they care? Nevertheless, if cats aren’t doing the top-down drop of their own volition, they get extremely hostile about it.
And they resist.
When cats resist, they tense up. They splay out their legs like ramrods. They stiffen up and turn into stone. And suddenly you can’t fit them through the hole in the top of the carrier, because they’ve made themselves too big and wide and stiff to fit through it. I’m talking about furry cat legs thrown out in all four directions, thrust out toward the four compass points, like the arms on a windmill.
And that’s how I’ve been feeling.
As you might imagine, this resistant cat behavior is not the ideal way to enter and embrace a time of transition. It’s not embracing at all, is it? It’s resisting with everything that’s within me. And yet in spite of the fight inside me, the transition hasn’t stopped.
So I’m going on the journey uncomfortable. And I have no idea where I’m going. And I have no GPS. Except for God’s latest direction to me, as vague as a quick note scratched on the napkin of my prayer life, reading: “Relax. The next place isn’t open yet.”
But I have to confess this one last thing: I guess I’m settling down into this time of transition after all. As of right now, I no longer feel precisely like a cat with its legs splayed out, a veritable Mr. Windmill.
Before you get too proud of me, though, let me warn you that this change of attitude still isn’t much to brag about. All it means is that God finally stuffed me into the carrier.
So now I’m just sitting here. In the carrier. A little grumpy, like a cat who’s lost the argument, you know. Sitting here, ears flaring, fur a little ruffled and puffed out. You can see I’ve been in a bit of a fight. But now the fight is over, and I’m just sitting here now, a big, grumpy cat stuck in a carrier.
All I can do now is pray I’m not going to the vet.
(C) Copyright 2009, Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved worldwide.