Critical Thinking: The Other National Deficit

Two-thirds of Republicans, about a quarter of Independents, and six percent of Democrats believe that the 2020 election was stolen. Do you agree with them, or do you believe that Joe Biden was the honestly elected President of the United States?

Do you believe that democracies around the world are threatened by the rise of autocratic leaders in countries such as China, Russia, Hungry, Belarus and Poland; and, by nationalist movements in Western nations? Or, do you believe that non-compromising leadership focused on nationalism is a positive wave of the future?

Do you believe that Democrats are trying to turn America into a socialist state; or, do you believe that Republicans are trying to turn America into an autocracy or an oligarchy?

Regardless of your answers to the above questions, think about how you reached your conclusions:  What is the basis for your opinion? What research did you do? Did you thoughtfully verify the “facts” presented by both sides of the issues? What resources did you use to analyze arguments presented by those who disagree with your opinion?

These questions are part of the substance that makes up critical thinking, often referred to as the other national deficit.

Seeking Facts in a Sea of Misinformation

When difficult questions and issues arise in today’s public squares, we find ourselves immersed in an aura of misinformation, disregard for facts and a disdain for accurate data. This disdain permeates our national dialogue.  Bill Clontz (a colleague and author of and I were invited to lead a Zoom discussion on the discipline of critical thinking. More than 80 computers logged on, and many of those were in two-person households, so we estimate the viewership was around 100 people. The following is part of my presentation:

I approach this task of discussing critical thinking reluctantly. Why? Because I am a flawed human being, a person who has not done the greatest job of practicing what I preach. My thinking is covered by barnacles of biases accumulated during 78 years of living.  When I am presented with an issue, my instinct is to jump to a response that fits neatly within those biases.

I hold my issues in a four-sided box: (1) my personal bias; (2) my liberal ideology; (3) my political loyalties; and (4) my experience. I then stand inside the box and take a position. My four-sided box is held together by a glue made from opinions, assumptions, personal beliefs, and a well-honed certainty about the rightness of my values.

Millions of Americans are standing in boxes such as mine. And the fact is that decisions made in the boxes are often too narrow and too divisive to cope with the time we are living in––a time of intersecting complexities and urgency.

The issues we face and the decisions we make today are mammoth––– in both size and difficulty-––and many of them do not have unassailable right or wrong answers.  All of them are prime targets for second guessers. Figuring out effective responses will take more than ideology, more than opinions, more than finding a path the fits our bias.

Out of the Box and Into the Data

Critical thinking takes us beyond the boxed opinion and into data. It questions our ideas and assumptions, it employs our powers of reasoning and it requires evidence rather than conjecture, facts rather than beliefs. To think critically is to analyze and evaluate rather than rely on instinct and intuition. It breaks down the sides of our boxes.

This approach to finding answers is not a solo discipline. The best solutions and the best ideas often come from people thinking together, people engaged in a focused conversation. When the conversation is an honest exchange of listening and sharing it becomes a crucial ingredient in the discipline of critical thinking. Frank Griswold, a former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, wrote that instead of dialoging about crucial ideas he was going to have conversations…because to converse implies a willingness to be converted.

If I am not willing to test my assumptions under the microscope of questioning, fact-finding and thoughtful examination––if I am not open to conversation with those who have different opinions––if I am not open to being converted when a better path, a path paved with facts and analysis­­­, emerges during the critical thinking process, I am failing myself, my progeny and my nation.

In summary, we will not solve the problems of America with an impulsive jerk of the knee. We will not solve them by retreating behind our walls of political ideology. We will not solve them by assigning provocative labels such as leftwing socialist or rightwing authoritarian to those with whom we disagree. We will solve them when we enter into serious fact-based conversation with one another.



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One Reply to “Critical Thinking: The Other National Deficit”

  1. As they used to say. “Common sense ain’t common”

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