How to be a Critical Thinker
First of all, what is critical thinking? Definitions abound, here is mine:
“Actively exercising your mind in a positive way to form interconnected ideas and understandings.” - R.V. Michaels
Critical thinking is not a passive activity, you must consciously engage in it. Critical thinking is also a learned behavior, but you must be willing to challenge your own perceptions and that is probably the hardest thing for any of us to do.
In my general description of the process for engaging in the activity of critical thinking there are three important parts.
The first part of critical thinking is actively exercising your mind, by looking at information from many angles and perspectives.
As a critical thinker you focus mental energy on the subject you are considering by engaging yourself in the mental activities of: observation, feeling, wondering, imagining, inferring, and inquiry. Use all your senses. What to do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? Depending on the subject, using some of those senses may seem abstract … but try it anyway, maybe imaging it.
The point here is, critical thinkers recognize they receive thoughts, concepts, ideas, and opinions on various subjects from others. They know shared information is often unconsciously framed in the perceived reality of the source who generated it. They also expect that the perceived reality, or the conclusions drawn from it, may or may not be valid. The critical thinker accepts all of this and considers it important to carefully think a bit more about it before accepting the information as truth.
The second important part of my definition of the critical thinking process is the qualifying phrase, "… in a positive way …"
Critical thinkers are not critical, meaning they are not predisposed to just finding fault.
They try to keep an open-mind and investigate the subject fairly. They look for supporting data and appraise the shared information based on discovery. People who tend to jump to conclusions maybe "positive" that they already have the correct answer, but they are not likely to be "positive" in the critical thinking appraisal of information … often they are "negative" to the idea that there might be another way of looking at the situation.
The last part of the critical thinking process, "… to form interconnected ideas and understandings" I would label the construction or problem-solving part of critical thinking.
Careful thinking by itself is mere intellectual play, but when coupled with a goal, i.e. a problem to solve, then the process becomes critical thinking.
The overarching goal of critical thinking is coming to the correct conclusion, choosing the right path, or implementing the solution(s) that fix the problem.
If you are looking for solutions, keep in mind as you consider possibilities … Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it's the only one you got!
Problems, there seems to be plenty of those. Just trying to make sense out of the what we garner from the news these days, let alone interpreting and trying to draw conclusions of the personal impact the information can have on each of us, is a daunting task. Climate change, healthcare, immigration, cost of education, racism, terrorism, gun control, crime… and the list can go on.
If ever there was a need for all of us to use good Critical Thinking skills, now appears to be the time.