Critical Thinking Skills, People!

A key part of the re-booting process usually involves a serious review and assessment of erroneous assumptions we made in the past. As my first grade teacher, Mrs. Davidson, so memorably taught me, “to assume is to make an ass of you and me.” So wise and yet, that hasn’t stopped any of us from doing so. In fact, we need to operate on the basis of a lot of assumptions in order to get through the day: we assume the sun will rise each morning, we assume that we’ll be able to make it to work on time, we assume our kids will get back from school safely, etc. Based on the information we have, we assume all will be well.

Except when it isn’t. It’s only then, when it’s too late, do we think to ask ourselves if we missed anything. If we, somehow, overlooked a sign of trouble or deception. We took it for granted that what we were told was accurate…because it was easier to do so.

But back to Mrs. Davidson’s adage and what this has to do with improving our re-booting process: we have many good, solid reasons for presuming a lot about our lives and the world around us, but because we have such good reasons, it is all too easy to slip into that comfortable lull where we blithely accept what others tell us. The problem for re-booters is that something significant in our lives feels out of place or wrong and demands to be remedied, so now we are forced to endure the uncomfortable but necessary exercise of reexamining our erroneous assumptions.

Take me, for instance. I grew up with relatives who vociferously championed qualities such as loyalty—in my own, weird little world, familial love was described in battle terms, “You can count on her in the trenches” or “He’d take a grenade for you,” that sort of thing—so, years later, when I found myself in an intense relationship where “loyalty” and “integrity” were liberally bandied about, I responded like Pavlov’s dog, assuming that the terms were intended in a reciprocal manner. But, they weren’t. In this particular relationship, loyalty only went one way. Where I erred was that I failed to question my assumption that it was a two-way street, despite there being manifold examples that I might want to reconsider what I presumed to be the case. And then, when everything blew up, I saw things as they were, not as I had hoped them to be. That was a hard lesson to learn.

Now, I’m no Oliver Stone conspiracy theorist, but I want you to be aware of the fact that questioning what you’re told extends from the most intense of relationships all the way to impersonal documents that we’d have every justification to believe were reliable. For instance, in the recently released US Senate Intelligence Committee investigative report on the September 11, 2012 deaths in Benghazi, Libya, buried on page 41, is a reference by then-FBI Director Robert Mueller that 15 people, “supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States have been killed in Benghazi since the attacks…It is unclear whether their killings were related to the Benghazi investigation.”  Now, to me, this appears to be a fairly significant turn of events, and yet, neither the Republican commentary at the report’s end mentions this nor did the Wall Street Journal or New York Times see fit to include it in their articles published the following day. Seriously? Fifteen people somehow tied to the investigation of this attack die or disappear and the matter isn’t investigated further? The committee and major national newspapers are ok with it being left “inconclusive,” really??? And what does this signal to you about how you might read articles about this (or other) matters in the future? This is what I mean when I refer to critical thinking skills.

The way I see it, a sampling of events of recent memory serve as evidence of the great strength of our democracy: for instance, neither Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, nor Gennifer Flowers has died or disappeared. For the man who introduced into the national consciousness words such as “obfuscation” and a parsing of the intransitive verb “is,” with as much at stake as there was for Bill Clinton, nobody mysteriously vanished. Or, the fact that nary a single shot was fired during (or subsequent to) the Florida 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election, hanging chad recount is HUGE! But, what about the 15 people related to the Benghazi investigation? Let’s just hope that some of the other, ongoing Congressional inquiries exhibit more, uh, curiosity and examine this disturbing matter.

A different example of critical thinking stems from a January 10 Wall Street Journal  article that discusses the issue of student subsidies in higher education. What caught my interest was buried about 2/3 of the way through the piece where the state higher education chancellor for Nevada, Dan Klaich, is quoted explaining the necessity for such subsidies. “What we have in Nevada is a huge low-income, first-generation population. If you lose this generation, you’re going to end up paying for it on the other end. It costs eight times more to put a person in prison for a year than to educate them at the University of Nevada, Reno.” Now, whether you are in favor of such subsidies or not is irrelevant for my purposes; what I want you to think about is the premise behind Mr. Klaich’s position: that people who don’t go to college will wind up in prison. Really? Is there no happy ending for them? Is it reasonable to assume they are doomed to live out their lives as felons? Wow! Now, just reflect upon all that goes into making a claim like this: anyone who doesn’t go to college is a sure bet for the pokey–that’s bad enough–and universities are the only thing that stands between you (the taxpaying subsidizer) and the crime-filled chaos that is sure to follow if you don’t pony up and keep our universities running. Trust us, we’re educators, we’re smarter than you!

I am using these examples simply to prod you into staying vigilant about questioning whether the information or representations that are put in front of you may require additional scrutiny. As Ronald Reagan so often said, “Trust but verify.”

I know how tempting it is to accept information as it is offered, without doing any extra work to determine if what is being said makes sense. There is a significant dissonance in each of the above examples that demands you pay attention. Use this technique when examining the dissonance in your own lives. Ask yourself, “Why does this not feel quite right to me? Is there any more to this? What am I assuming to be the case? Am I missing some key piece of information?” My fellow re-booters, please, do me the favor of reminding yourselves to exercise critical thinking skills at every turn. This is a core line of code in your re-booting process.

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2 Responses to “Critical Thinking Skills, People!”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    Nice…….I guess I should look for a lot of my friends in prison as they did not go to college. I wondered where they went and now I know.

  2. dignitarysretreat Says:

    I know, according to our Nevada friend, it’s a sure bet that you can find ten locked up, somewhere. Good grief!

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