“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle
Election time is upon us and as we get ready to select the person who will lead our country the next 4 years, we are deluged by people telling us what to think. Whatever happened to thinking for ourselves?
Every day, a poll comes out telling us what others think. When the debates happen, they scroll lines across the bottom telling us how people are reacting to every word the candidates utter. Then after the debates, “experts” tell us who won.
We are all so busy now that it’s difficult to find the time to do our own research, and exploration. I understand that and I certainly think that media has its place — but I get concerned when it seems that media spin has the power to simply erase our memories.
For example, that 47% comment that Romney made was pretty significant — and yet, poof, it seems to have just disappeared under the deluge of spin. And the winds of Hurricane Sandy seem to have blown away concerns about what Obama knew when about really happened in Benghazi. Poof.
It’s vitally important that we each engage our own critical thinking skills. As you prepare to vote, take the time to shake off the media spin and look at the evidence. Whether it’s about candidates or propositions, hop on the computer and do a little fact checking of your own. Write down some of the key evidence and examine the sources.
Yes, this takes time — but it is the privilege we have in this country to participate in this process. It’s the very process that people fight and die for around the world every day.
And critical thinking is not just a skill to bust out at election time. We should use it every day we ingest media. Every person — whether they are a politician, author, newsanchor, teacher, neighbor, or parent — has a perspective they are trying to expound. That’s the beauty of living in a free society where we can — but it still requires that you sort through it all. That requires an engagement on your part to assess the information and make your own choice.
I have been teaching critical thinking for years in my courses, and what I’m really teaching is the ability to question authority and even challenge it. For that is what thinking requires — the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it. It’s also important to remember that only you can think for yourself. I know that seems obvious but it reminds me of a great quote from a professor at UCSB, Otis Madison.
He speaks to students about the importance of critical thinking especially at college where “experts” abound. He would tell them: “I am happy to think for you, but remember that when I do that, the thoughts I have will be in my best interest, not yours.”
This is true not only for academic experts but for every source of information we encounter. Please take the time to think for yourself. It’s our responsibility to do so as members of a democratic society.