What Do You Think?Jan 29, 2024
It’s a serious question. Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time passively absorbing the thoughts of other people, bingeing TV or doom-scrolling through our social media accounts. Eventually, these semi-comatose moments of media consumption can be mistaken for actual conscious thought. It is important to figure out where you stand, independent of what everybody else wants you to believe. So ask yourself, what do you think?
Here we are, deep in the throes of another general election year and the concomitant $10 billion manipulation circus. In times like these, the ability to think critically functions not only for the greater good, but as self-defense; a martial art for the mind.
A Critical Responsibility
Every man-made thing in the world is a product of action. And every action is born of thought. You suffer or celebrate the consequences of your own thoughts every day and sometimes for years. Since thought creates a great deal of your reality (and can influence others’), it is your responsibility to think well.
Think about it (pun intended): you are the only one who can decide which of your many thoughts is best for you. Friends and family and teachers and coaches and “authority” figures can try to influence you, but at the end of the day it is your thoughts that will determine the direction of your life. And no one has to live it but you.
Personal responsibility - in every sphere - is positively correlated with happiness and independence (read, “freedom”). In basic terms, you can’t change things you don’t control.
Of the many life situations you can control, none is more intimate - more foundational to your life - than your own thoughts. When you take responsibility for the way you think, you gain the ability to craft the controllable parts of life in the most beneficial way.
At its base, critical thinking is doing the best you can to differentiate truth from BS, including your own. It is worth the extra time and effort to make decisions - and therefore build your life - based on reality. But “hype” and “spin” are at heretofore unseen levels. How do you know what to believe?
Make it your policy to consider these steps when faced with a decision of some import:
Consider the source. Everyone is trying to sell you something, all the time. When faced with a new opinion, ask, “What will this person gain by getting me to believe this?” In some cases, their goal may match yours. In many cases it will not. If what they want is the same as what you - independently - want, you may choose to accept their advice.
You can’t choose your facts. Facts are different from opinion. A fact has some objective evidence that supports its existence. Part of your due diligence is to determine the basis of that evidence. Is the fact corroborated by more than one source? Are there statistics to support the evidence? How old is the data - could it have changed? Do your own research, and consider the source and biases of that research as well.
I recently asked an Internet “guru” to cite the evidence for a “scientific” claim he made. His response was, “I don’t have room for all the words I need to explain it to you.” Awkward, and a giant red flag. People just make stuff up.
Know your biases. Everyone is biased. Yes, even you. The first step towards an accurate view of the world is to examine the lenses through which you view it. What groups appeal to you? Why? What groups seem unacceptable? Why? Your biases both for and against any group of people - for any definition of “group” - must be based upon information that you have carefully investigated. “I was raised that way,” or “That’s how we always did it,” or “Where I come from, that’s what we believe,” may or may not be a valid basis for your own belief. Accept that you have been told these things, then carefully consider their validity. It is up to you to decide if these opinions are in congruence with your own.
Exit the echo chamber. We are most comfortable when surrounded with people who “think like we do.” The problem is that they may not be thinking at all. If the people who agree with you on a certain issue have given it considerable thought and investigation, you may be truly aligned with them. If they are just parroting something they have heard, you may do well to steer clear. In any case, part of your investigation into your own BS must include hearing the “other side.”
One way to do this is to “steel man” the opposing views. Make a case that the “other” opinion is correct. Then do your best to support that opinion. Use the same research and careful selection of facts that you use to support your own position. You may be surprised at what you learn and how your own position can change. Until you do this, you are only repeating what you have heard.
Listen to other points of view with an open mind: “What if they know something I don’t know?” If you do the research and thinking to make a case for a differing viewpoint and still are convinced that your original position is correct, you will know that your thoughts are your own.
Don’t be surprised if, after this exercise, you are less extreme in your beliefs and your confidence in them. This is the basis of tolerance.
What Do You Think?
Think for yourself about yourself. There was an old saying that is still applicable today that said, “Think globally, act locally.” That is still good advice.
Consider how the goods and policies you are being sold would affect your own personal life and that of your family. Stave off the rhetoric that swirls about important issues (and reconsider what you believe to be important).
Bring your critical thought down to a personal, actionable level: “Will I be better off if I support this position, or vote for this person, or buy this thing?” “Will my family? My friends?”
Once you decide to think critically, you will be in a much stronger position to make confident decisions. You will make better use of the right to free speech and the right to vote that we enjoy in this country, to the betterment of all.
The more you exercise the power of critical thought, the less likely you are to become an unknowing mouthpiece for somebody else’s agenda.
What do you think?
I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, educator and counselor. To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account. Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming later this year, wherever you download your podcasts.
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