In comparison to the well-known Greek philosopher Socrates, we have information sources at our fingertips. Every day we search all likes of questions under the sun, and in seconds we receive answers that span a great many subjects.
How do we consume all of this information? What is our responsibility for sharing it?
This information could be opinion, assumption, supposition or just plain fiction? Maybe it is factual, but where has it come from? Why is written? What is its purpose?
As it was so many years ago, as people were learning the art of thought, now more than ever, the skill of Critical Thinking is all the more important to everyone who digests new information.
The Socratic Method
This process established by Socrates is used to instil the Art of Critical Thinking. It is a method still used today in universities and learning institutions.
Using the form of an argumentive dialogue between students and individuals, questions are asked to which when answers are given, further questions are asked.
There are various forms of questions, which might have the receiver thinking very deeply about them, or immediately knowing the answer. Ultimately it is never to stop asking critical questions.
It is a question after question method.
What is Critical Thinking? How do we define it?
Wikipedia describes it as follows:
“Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to form a judgment. The subject is complex, and several definitions exist, which generally include the rational, sceptical, unbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.”
To check my facts on the definition, I consulted Dictionary.com:
“Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded and informed by evidence.”
The way I see it is as follows:
Critical Thinking is the ability to carefully assess and evaluate the information and then determining how to interpret it to make your final judgment.
It requires us to remove ourselves from our personal agenda, from our inherent point of reference and to look at the situation holistically.
Some other well-known critical thinkers:
- Albert Einstein
- Charles Darwin
- Galileo Galilei
- Martin Luther King
- Nelson Mandela
There are no further mentions needed of the impact all of these people had on the course of history. When you think about it then, it does support why critical thought and the process involved is now more than ever, so very important.
A modern way of thinking and its benefits
For us all to be productive thinkers about the information we read or hear, we should be asking more questions. The next step is to then further assess everything around those answers.
The question after question process.
- What’s happening here?
- What am I seeing?
- What am I reading?
- How are other’s reacting to what is happening?
- Where did this all start?
- How do I feel about this?
- Why am I feeling this way?
The benefits are such that we become more curious about our world and how we are impacting it. Our creative streaks are tweaked, and we will become better problem solvers.
The world could do with a load more problem solvers.
A framework of leading questions
If we use the following set of questions when confronted with new information, especially information that might be controversial or presented in such a way to elicit an immediate response, we could succeed in a group effort to make positive changes in our world.
The information we gather either benefit or does harm. The “who” question is, therefore a great first step on our way to thinking more critically.
- Who is being harmed or benefitted by this information?
- Who is this person or the entity involved in this story?
There is a decision-making process by all who create and disseminate information. Whether the information is created to cause a sale, a reaction, a swing in the vote or a call to action, for example, how that information is presented to us should always be carefully scrutinised for its underlying purpose.
This does not mean that we are critical of the presenter of this information. We might land up at that point, however, but initially, we are simply critical of our own thought process to gather all other relevant information properly.
Someone is usually always going to be impacted by the information you receive. It follows then that asking yourself who are the other key people involved.
- Who are the stakeholders?
- Who are the end-users?
Who are these people or organisations, and how are they affected by what you might be reading or hearing?
Now that we have a clear idea of who is involved in our story, where can we now find more information or evidence, if a story you are reading requires evidence, to corroborate our information we have at hand?
- Where can additional information be found?
- Where is this story unfolding?
- Where are we going with this?
- Where am I positioned here?
- Where will I land up once I have taken action, or if I do nothing?
Knowing why the problem or situation exists and why it is relevant to me and to others set forth many more thought-provoking questions on our quest to think critically.
- Why are we influenced by this?
- Why do I care about this?
- Why should I care?
- Why am I different in my thought process to others?
- Why is my point of reference more important than others?
- Why are people affected by this?
- Why am I not affected by this?
Most often these days, I ask myself “why have we allowed this thing to happen?”
It seems that we, the human race, continually cause our own problems and allow problems, issues and challenges to perpetuate. Since I always lean towards hope, though, as most of our problems are of our own making, we are in the best position to solve them too.
Knowing when to share information safely is achieved after you have asked yourself why other people should know about this. Even the most innocent of texts can have lasting effects.
Critical Thinking is about responsibility to ourselves and others. Discovering the “why” is another responsible step in the process.
Making a positive change and providing value are two of my own personal values. To that end, what I can do to achieve these two things is my own leading question when I am thinking about “what”.
- What can I do?
- What should I do?
- What should we be doing as a group?
- What happens if I do this?
- What happens if I don’t do this?
It often will have you assessing the most and least important aspects of the situation at hand and therefore establishing the best and worst-case scenario’s.
I have a project management qualification and learned about assessing what strengths and weaknesses exist. From here, discovering possible and workable alternatives are discovered, and since we mostly cause our own problems, we are now capable of efficiently resolving them too.
South Africa is reported as being one of the countries with a high rate of corruption. Statistics provided by Transparency International scores South Africa a 44/100 as a rating on the Corruption Perception Index.
During the lockdown, a story was published on how local officials were stealing social grant packages. The story presented the bare-faced problem, which has long been a critical issue even before the pandemic.
The story published by Transparency International and submitted by South Africa’s local Corruption Watch encompassed everything around critical thinking. The Who, Where, Why and the What.
The story is analytical of the statistics, it proposes solutions to problems, it gives a holistic view of the situation, and it easily presents ideas towards solutions.
This is the importance and power of critical thinking.
If used, it allows us to be more analytical of information, lends to our curiosity, supports strategic planning and most importantly, in my opinion, to solve our problems.