A Book in Time
What is critical thinking? It is the ability to observe and think about a situation and to see and evaluate the validity or reality of it, based on your own research and analysis, without outside influence or bias. “Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data or evidence related to it.” 1 You take time to see the essential truth based on logic and common sense. You “challenge” what has been said or shown and consider numerous possible answers or alternatives. The key is to ask questions wherever possible.
Critical thinking (CT) is to be performed objectively, without influence from personal feelings, opinions, or biases. The focus should be entirely based on factual information. Perhaps even discover new ways of thinking about things. You must be able to do this without bias or prejudice. Where is the evidence of proof? What is the source of evidence? Who is involved? Are they reliable? Is a source of funding somehow involved? How can you verify credibility? Today you are faced with propaganda that requires tremendous filtration and the capacity to think critically. Use this ability to think with an open mind and consider the validity of the presented information.
CT is a skill that can be practiced and mastered; it allows you to make logical and informed decisions to the best of your abilities. There is no particular standard for how CT occurs, and there are numerous variations to choose from. However, six basic concepts will be presented here to guide you to becoming an exceptional critical thinker.
IDENTIFY THE SITUATION
It is essential to identify what is occurring. What is the situation or problem, and what factors may influence it? Gain clarity of the situation, including who and what may be influential. Ask questions such as, “Who is doing what?”, “What seems to be the reason for this happening?”, “What are the end results, and how could they change?”, “What are the circumstances surrounding the occurrence or event?”, “Why is it necessary?”, “How did this come about?” and “What caused the occurrence?”
The next step is to undergo intensive and independent research, comparing arguments about the issue of concern. Arguments are often persuasive and influential. Therefore, it is imperative that your research is performed independently by you, and the resources must be verified as factual, reliable, credible, as well as unbiased. Evaluate the research and resources. Are the claims that are made “sourced” or “unsourced”? If the claims do not have a specified source, or you discover they are seeking to “hide” the source, that is a red flag, leading to the question of why? Research this new question and add the data to the other collected information. It is also important to be aware that the presented information may not be as it “seems.” For example, a study may claim to use a placebo as a control, yet if you dig deeper, you may find it was not a “neutral” control. Perhaps a previous version of the drug is used as a “placebo” rather than a saline-neutral control. This applies to any field you may serve in or even in simple daily interactions. Dig as deeply as necessary to reveal as much pertinent information as possible. Be sure to research both sides of the occurrence or claim. Collect as much information as possible from opposing sides.
Biases are sometimes difficult to uncover, yet this is a vital part of the CT process. The most skilled critical thinkers seek to master this difficult ability. Strong critical thinkers do their best to evaluate information objectively and view the claims of both sides of an argument or decision to be made. It is important to be able to wade through the waters of biases that likely are included on both sides. While identifying biases, it is equally important to set aside your own biases to ensure your judgment does not become clouded. Try challenging yourself to debate one side of the argument, justifying it until you win the argument. Then do the same thing for the opposing side of the argument. Work just as hard individually for each side as you attempt to justify each to a win. What have you learned from this exercise? Could you collect enough information to justify each side to a winning position? Learn to see things from different vantage points and be objective.
Analyze the evidence, and verify that the sources are credible and reliable. Questions to ask when evaluating biases include, “Whom does this benefit?”, “Does the source of this information appear to have an agenda?”, “Is the source overlooking, ignoring, censoring, or leaving out information that doesn’t support its beliefs or claims?”, “Is the source using unnecessary language to sway the audience’s perception of a fact?”, “Where do you identify biases?”, “Is there funding involved, potentially causing a bias?” and “Is there any emotion or intimidation present in the content?”
Next, it is important to use logical reasoning and draw conclusions based on the sound evidence you gathered from credible sources. To master the skill of CT, it is important to be able to infer and create an educated “guess” based on your thorough research. You must extrapolate and discover potential outcomes based on the raw data collected. Perform as much research as possible from various trustworthy and reliable resources. Analyze and evaluate all the data using logic and common sense. Assess the information, and draw your own conclusions. As not all inferences will be correct, it becomes crucial to consciously gather as much untainted information as possible before reaching this decision.
It can also be challenging, yet it’s important to discern the relevance of the information for your consideration and seek the most relevant data. There may be a vast amount of data to sift through regarding the topic. You must decipher what is most pertinent to reaching your desired result. What is your end goal? Determine precisely what it is you desire to uncover or discover. Guard against any inclination to show bias. Remain unprejudiced and open to considering all information, yet use your own sound judgment to sift through the collected research.
Be open to unbiased discovery by asking open-ended questions. This allows all possibilities without prejudice. Unfiltered and unprompted information may be revealed by asking questions in this format. A free flow of information is encouraged, and there is a greater potential that productive information may be produced that may further guide your evaluation of data. Open-ended questions also encourage learning and an exchange of ideas. They allow you to probe deeper and are non-restrictive in thought. They may even allow for innovative responses or answers that spawn from expanding thinking, unhindered by a smaller scope of questioning.
WHY THINK CRITICALLY?
There are many decisions you are faced with to answer every day. While not every question needs a precise and particularly calculated answer, many could benefit from running them through the process of CT. However, suppose you practice the skills of CT regularly. In that case, you will realize that it is possible to utilize this process extensively, to the point that it becomes programmed into your mind and is part of an automatic response you portray. You will have formed a habit of making logical decisions. While not every issue may “need” this process, it certainly won’t hurt anything!
In helping and serving others, you may have another person's physical or mental life under your care. Or perhaps you have a say in their comfort, healing, recovery, self-care, outlook, or pain management. Whatever the case, when there are people in some way under your care, they trust you to make decisions that are in their best interest. These are crucial decisions and most certainly should be processed through CT skills. Often the best way to reach an answer to something is by “ruling out” what isn’t the problem or the best way of doing things. Below is listed a variety of methods by which decisions are made.
Methods of Decision-Making:
CT – This is the obvious and desired method of decision-making. As mentioned earlier, CT is a multi-faceted method of asking unbiased questions from different angles of a situation. You want to be a “blank slate” as you gather data, without prejudice, from both sides of a decision. Ask open-ended questions to gather as much untainted information as possible. Collect data from opposing perspectives, utilizing trustworthy sources. Then analyze and evaluate. Allow logic and common sense to be your GPS and navigate you to a decision that is objective, unbiased, and emotion-free in its origins. Draw your own unbiased, individual conclusions without persuasion from anyone or anything else.
Herd-mentality – Sometimes, there is a loss of individuality, and people begin to conform to a certain group or even workplace atmosphere and stop thinking as an individual. This is common, especially when working as an employee within a facility or company. In this method, influence from a certain group, facility, organization, etc., may affect information processing. There may even be comfort in “allowing” someone else to make the decisions and just following blindly, assuming the decisions are well made. It is still extremely important to perform the process of CT even while being within the “safety” or direction of a group. Continue to ask questions and think for yourself as an individual. Who controls the group? Are you permitted to be authentic in your position? Who benefits from being in the group? Would you still be accepted if you presented an opposing view? What seems to be the agenda of the group? Who funds the group? Is there any censoring of people with different views? Are you strong enough to stand up for your own beliefs and way of practicing and make independent decisions? What if you received pressure from the group to help someone in a different manner than you believe is right? How would you respond?
Peer Pressure – Peer pressure is not just a concern for children. It also exists within every age group and sector. As with herd mentality, the premise of peer pressure is generally a form of acceptance within a group and an expectation to follow certain regulated guidelines. Have you ever experienced this in your work environment? Are you currently experiencing pressure from your peers? Is the pressure against your beliefs of practice? Who is applying the pressure? What seems to be the desired goal of the pressure? What is the validity of their request or demand? Will you allow your decisions to be swayed due to the pressure? Perform the CT method regarding the issue of concern, ask yourself many objective and unbiased questions, and collect as much data as possible. Perform extensive, independent research described in the CT method and analyze and evaluate the pertinent data. Draw your own conclusions. They may be the same as you were being pressured to agree with from the beginning, but it is important that you know why you are doing what you are doing. What did you discover?
Intimidation – Many situations in life may be intimidating. They may even seep into the workplace atmosphere. Have you ever heard of an actual situation of intimidation in the workplace? Have you ever experienced it personally? Do you ever allow intimidation to affect your decisions? What is an intimidating factor in your life, especially regarding your work environment or service to others? Who do you find to be intimidating? Is there anyone in your workplace you find intimidating? Do they affect your performance or decisions? How can you build tolerance against intimidation? How can you avoid intimidating people or circumstances? If you face an intimidating circumstance in your work environment, especially concerning your service to others, run the circumstance through the CT process. Collect as much data as possible. Ask many open-ended questions, and attempt to view things objectively from both perspectives, considering all possibilities. Analyze all of the pertinent information you gathered from reliable sources. Evaluate all of the information and form your own conclusions. What have you discovered?
Reputation – Are you influenced by how people perceive you? It is human nature to want to be accepted and respected by others. However, what if an ethical issue came into play? Are your decisions affected by how other people might view you? Are you willing to compromise your values for your reputation? What if your reputation was threatened if you didn’t care for a person the way someone else wanted you to? What if you were denied access to something simple you knew would help a person? Would you allow a threat to harm your reputation and cause you to compromise your decision-making? Run any questionable events such as this through the CT process, following the line of questioning discussed, and draw your own unbiased, untainted, and logically reasoned conclusions, all without the influence of persuasion. What have you discovered?
Financial Advantage – Financial incentives are intriguing and, most likely, appealing. Have you ever worked for a facility that geared its decisions based on a financial incentive? How about a type of kickback? Is there an advantage to a specific type of method of service? Has helping others ever been compromised? Has this ever altered the way you are permitted to practice? Have service options ever changed based on a financial incentive? Who benefited from this? Have you ever been offered a financial incentive to change the way you practice? What was the premise of the incentive? Was it an exchange for a worthy service, object, or event? Or was there a persuasive nature, requesting you to sway to a certain side of an issue? How would you handle a prosperous incentive that clashed with your morals or the way you practice? If you recognize a situation such as this, begin the CT process and ask unbiased questions regarding the events. Consider opposing sides of the circumstances and thoroughly research the situation. Ask lots of questions and utilize credible resources, gathering as much data as possible. Gain an understanding of what is happening using the CT questions mentioned previously. Analyze all the information independently, and draw your own conclusions. What do you think has occurred? How will you respond?
Emotionally Charged – An emotionally charged person, or especially a group or organization, could have a distinct and definite impact on a situation. People that are emotionally charged often respond to situations based on emotions rather than logic. It is difficult not to be affected by this volatile demeanor. “Feelings” are not reliable and often even illogical. How do you respond when you are with another person running high on emotions? Are you influenced to side with them just to keep the peace? How do you respond within a group that becomes highly charged? Would you conform to the ones supplying the most intense energy? Are you able to hold on to and be consistent with your own beliefs? Are you permitted to hold a different vantage point without opposition from other business associates? Are you permitted to practice freely as you believe best, based on your own personal experience? Allow yourself to critically think your way to an unbiased resolution. Run each emotionally charged situation through the CT process, asking unbiased questions and collecting and analyzing the data. Evaluate all relevant information and draw your own conclusions. What do you notice?
Fear – Fear encompasses numerous possibilities, each different for every individual. What is your biggest fear? Is there a fear of losing a job or position? How about losing status or a promotion? Is there a fear of losing your clientele or customers? How would this fear shape the way you make decisions? Would any of your values be compromised? Are you able to separate decision-making from this fear? Do you know someone who operates out of fear, compromising their values and their typical way of practicing? How can you be certain you never compromise yours out of fear? Critically consider any situation where a certain fear presents itself at a decision-making moment. What is the basis of the fear? Who is involved? What appears to be the desired outcome? Will the way you normally serve others be altered due to this fear? Continue to ask numerous unbiased CT questions and thoroughly research the situation. Collect as much data as possible using credible and trustworthy sources. Analyze and evaluate the data making logical inferences. Draw your own conclusions. What do you notice?
Obedience – Being obedient to authority is a typical response for most people. It is a standard of practice and generally what is expected in society. What if you were being asked to do something that violated an oath to “first, do no harm?” How would you be affected? Would you automatically submit to their request? Would obedience to the authority figure affect your decision to do something against your values? Consider Stanley Milgram and his studies regarding blind obedience to authority. Take some time to read his studies through an online search. He observed that people are willing to hide behind the guise of authority despite an action being wrong or unethical, even though they may have no malicious intent.2 Would you proceed with the request without question? Or would you question the request or the intent and seek further information? Would you stand your ground if you found evidence that it was unethical? Would there be a circumstance in which you would be inclined to compromise your values? Even if it felt wrong, would you proceed by rationalizing that it is okay because someone in authority said so? Or would your moral compass cause a stir in you to find out more information first? How would you handle this situation? What would you be willing to do for the sake of obedience? Critically think about how you would handle issues regarding obedience conflicting with how you practice your expertise. Who is asking you to do what? What is the source of the conflict? Is there influence or outside persuasion? Is there a financial incentive involved? View the situation from opposing vantage points and ask yourself a series of CT questions. Gather as much unbiased and objective data as possible. Analyze and evaluate this information. Draw your own conclusions. What have you discovered?
Loyalty – Loyalty is an admirable character quality if it is aligned with your values. What or who are you loyal to? Is your loyalty being challenged in a way that negatively affects the way you practice your trade? Would you compromise your decisions based on loyalty to someone or something? How does loyalty affect how you make decisions? If issues regarding loyalty arise, begin the CT process and ask questions to discover pertinent information. Seek to discover what is actually going on, and use your logic to analyze all data collected. Extrapolate your own conclusions. What has been revealed?
Insecurity – Many forms of insecurity have the potential to influence decisions. Insecurity, in general, can lead people to act in peculiar ways. Have you ever let an insecurity affect a decision you made? Have you identified someone else allowing an insecurity to drive a decision? Who was involved? Who benefited from the situation? Who was negatively affected by the decision? What were the surrounding circumstances? How would you handle a situation where an insecurity swayed a decision? How can you use CT to bring this to a resolution?
Past experience – It is common to base how you practice your expertise on your own experiences. And more often than not, this is the most effective and predictable way to proceed. As new information arises, however, this is a great opportunity to think critically about how an alternate approach may or may not be considered. Consider the risks and benefits of utilizing what is known from past experiences versus the new information presented. Ask yourself unbiased questions and be open to new possibilities through logical reasoning while considering past processes' effectiveness. Critically think of opposing views and thoroughly research using reputable sources. Perform your research independently, resisting conformity. Use your own logic to reach your own individual conclusions without bias or influence from anyone else. What have you decided?
There are many different factors behind the decision-making process, including many more than are listed here. Whether you have experienced one, two, five, or even all of the mentioned methods, employ the CT process before you make your ultimate decisions. Who is doing what? What seems to be the reason for this happening? What are the potential or desired end results? How could they possibly change? Who does this benefit? Does the source of this information appear to have an agenda? What is the agenda? Is the source overlooking, ignoring, censoring, or leaving out information that doesn’t support its beliefs or claims? Is the source using unnecessary language to sway an audience’s perception of a fact? Is there unusual emotion or intimidation involved? How are your values affected? What would it look like through the eyes of the opposing side? What are other potential responses? Are you allowing other people or things to affect your decisions? Are you using logic? Utilizing credible and reliable resources, research and gather as much relevant information as possible. Analyze and extrapolate your own conclusions based on the raw data.
CT requires that your knowledge is constantly updated as you take in new information. You must look at your own biases and be logical in your reasoning. Look at things for yourself. Hold on to your individuality, and make your own decisions, yet also be able and willing to see more than one side of every issue. Take emotion away and think about the facts at hand. Carefully listen to the input of others, and consider, yet know yourself well enough to make your own independent, informed, and logical decisions. Do not blindly follow anyone without knowing all the relevant information necessary to understand what is happening or being asked of you. Be open-minded while using truth-seeking reasoning. There is an art to being able to disconfirm the claims of others but done in such a way as to promote a common bond or shared fate. This would result in an intensely more powerful influence than intimidation or deceit. Use your mind without prejudice or fear, and learn to see things from opposing viewpoints. Evaluate information from different perspectives, be open-minded for consideration, yet stand firm in your final, unprejudiced conclusions. Think for yourself, avoid conformity, and never stop asking questions.
- Erstad, Will. January 22, 2018. “6 Critical Thinking Skills You Need to Master Now.” https://www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/critical-thinking-skills-to-master-now/.
- “Milgram Experiment.” Accessed January 28, 2023. Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.