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 time...insurance 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.