Yesterday we wrote about how a commitment to civility and more widespread use of the communication tools that mediators use can make a difference in our national politics. Today we look at the importance of critical thinking. Critical thinking requires ongoing and systematic analysis of how we are thinking so we can improve how we evaluate, use, and integrate different kinds of information. This extends also to thinking about how we communicate our thoughts, and how we receive and process what we hear. In a world of sound bites, competing and biased narratives, and positional maneuvering, critical thinking is “critical” to finding our way.
One resource I really like and have used in several dialogue contexts to help participants think about how and what they are communicating is the “Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools” booklet from The Foundation for Critical Thinking Thinker’s Guide Library. As is noted in the very beginning of that booklet, without the effort to think critically, much of our thinking is “biased, distorted, uninformed, or downright prejudiced”. As the authors go on to note, this is dangerous because “the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life.”
The stages of critical thinking outlined in the booklet align well with the “data to wisdom continuum.” Both tools can be used to help participants generate questions about where they are, what they know, and what they don’t know and would like to explore further. Developing these types of questions helps people move from simply trading talking points, to more productive dialogue. Another great resource to check out is FlackCheck.org. Here you can review some of the common ways information is manipulated or distorted when reported through the media, illustrated with real life video examples. Our post series on cognitive errors also works well with this resource.
The educator John Dewey observed that “Democracy needs to be reborn in each generation and education is its midwife.” As Dan Yankelovich has pointed out, our national problem solving capacity has eroded as our collective ability to think critically together has declined. By integrating educational tools like those above into our dialogues we can help to restore that capacity.