I went back to university in my forties to study and gain the degrees that I never earned in my younger years. My initial desire was to study business and I focused my early efforts on earning a certificate in public relations, followed by a BS and eventually my MS degree in communication.
One of the things I learned early-on is the importance of critical thinking. I would submit my written assignments and when these were returned by the professor, there would be a comment about doing more than simply repeating in different words what I had studied in other sources. These comments quickly caused me to change my approach. I had to learn to think critically! This was likely the most important skill I developed during my time at RIT.
So then, what exactly is critical thinking? It is the exercise of analyzing and evaluating what is observed or heard, leading to the ability to form a well-stated opinion (written or verbal) that contributes something of value to a body of knowledge, conversation, or debate. Importantly, this is to be based on logic or intellect, without an uncontrolled or emotional reaction.
My observation is that few people seem to have the ability to exercise any personal skill in critical thinking. Instead, we have a portion of the younger set that needs a ‘safe place’ on the college campus, a protected location that shelters them from hearing opinions that might shatter their illusions, or that create within them uncomfortable levels of cognitive dissonance.
However, we also have plenty of adults in their thirties and beyond who lack the ability to think through an issue. What they do when they hear or see something that they deem disagreeable or offensive, is they react out of emotion. No opinion or facts are presented, but they shame the source, give an insult, or name-call. The next step is perhaps to defriend, unfollow, or otherwise reject the ones with whom they disagree. It’s all quite childish, something they might have done in junior high. This is mental slothfulness.
Mental slothfulness is a lazy and simplistic approach to any deeper topic, a thin form of notion that lacks intellectual effort. It often sparks emotional outburst, a kind of mental riot that seeks to crush and destroy, rather than to meaningfully engage and rationalize with those who have a different opinion. Too often the mental sloth takes his or her place at a favored media drinking trough to slake their thirst of that which they are told to think.
Considering the many challenges facing our nation today and in the months ahead, one of the most problematic relates more to the people of this land. I hesitate to call them citizens, even if they qualify in the legal sense. Instead, many of our people are intellectually lazy, unwilling (unable?) to think critically and rationally discuss the important issues of our day. Some of these mental sloths are long-time politicians and the media elite who thrive on the gullibility of their non-thinking, but eager listeners and readers.
If we struggle with or completely reject the concept of critical thinking, then where are we headed as a people? As a nation? The lack of critical thinking skills ultimately leads directly to a loss of liberty, simply because we are unwilling or unable to think for ourselves.
© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2021
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)
2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Our Society Has Lost a Skill”
I didn’t realize you went back to school!
This post is so very true.
Many people seem unable to grasp that seemingly contradictory ideas can be true at the same time. They lack the capacity for ambivalence- everything must be black and white. I think one cause is a lack of deep reading and the internet reducing attention spans.
Good points Janice! And thanks for writing. Yes I went back to school and I really enjoyed the experience.