Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Primary school used to be a time when children learned the basics, the 3 Rs: Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic. For religious schools, a fourth R was added. In contemporary schooling, a major objective in elementary schools is to teach critical thinking skills. Do a search on it. You'll find numerous websites.
The Foundation for Critical Thinking (yes, there really is one) considers a "well-cultivated critical thinker as one who:
raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively, comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems. (1)
This brings to mind the story of a third grade teacher who lamented her extremely effective teaching of critical thinking skills to her students when her students started questioning why they had to take spelling tests on Friday mornings after what they considered had already been a long, tough week of academic learning. She replied to her students, "Since when did obedience become a pathological condition?
With this background on the high minded, intellectual pursuit of critical thinking, let us turn to the case of Republicans and Democrats in the United States of America. An old, overseas teaching friend and roommate of mine recently sent me footage of a Comedy Central cable television show that portrayed Trump supporters as ignorant nincompoops.
I told my old teaching friend that such types of street interviews are common on either side of the political spectrum and shot him back a video from the opposing side as proof.
My former roommate chimed back that the video of Trump supporters was more entertaining. Granted, Comedy Central specializes in comedy and Fox News does not. The point was that both sides engage in street interviews for the purpose of demeaning people.
We are living in a Divided States of America right now. People are dug in to their convictions with both left and right engaged in constant battles of moral superiority. If one does read or watch news sources from opposing viewpoints, it is mostly to hate-watch and formulate instantaneous rebuttal.
Do we ever raise "vital questions" even of our own belief system? Certainly both sides have an amount of "well-reasoned" people. Are we being "open-minded" to the belief system of the other side? Do people on each side "communicate effectively" with one another? It seems that a significant number of people these days are falling short of what is considered to be a well-cultivated, critical thinker. Perhaps emotion is getting in the way of reason.
Knowledge and Wisdom
In this generation where KNOWLEDGE is king (or queen), we need to remember the importance of WISDOM. The great Gautam Buddha offered, “Wisdom is highest of all five virtues”. The University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness web page gives a relevant definition:
Wisdom is the product of knowledge and experience, but it is more than the accumulation of information. It is the coordination of this information and its deliberate use to improve well-being. In a social context, wisdom allows the individual to listen to others, to evaluate what they say, and then offer them good (sage) advice. (2)
So, in this constant back and forth of opposing sides shouting through and over each other, suggesting that wisdom may be lacking. Why? Just take a look at schools today. The teaching of knowledge and skills dwarfs the teaching on wisdom with the focus on utilitarianism, following the teaching of Dewey in the first half of the twentieth century. The attainment of wisdom seems to be more in the realm of religion and spirituality. An entire book on Wisdom is in the Bible. Wisdom teaches restraint and prudence -- when to talk and when to be quiet. Knowledge without wisdom can be a dangerous thing. Look at the lack of restraint of people on social media and on the streets in these turbulent times. The Church was a restraining force for a couple millennia, but is lacking in ability to restrain in current times as participation in church services over the last couple generations has plummeted (3). It seems all hell is breaking loose. See Mark Mallet's Removing the Restrainer for a further discussion (4).
The 90/10 Minimum Rule
Here is a plea for the 90/10 Minimum Rule. Rather than closing our ears to the others with opposing viewpoints completely, perhaps we can commit to listening to the other side (10%), even just a little, while still holding true to our convictions (90%). While it is applauded that these two guys at least made the effort to sit down at the same table, perhaps we can strive to be better listeners:
Much better yet, this following video clip starts with resistance to hearing an opposing viewpoint. Wisdom suddenly showed her face and allowed for a modicum of open-mindedness to hear the convictions of the other side. Critical thinking was allowed to seed itself.
The Power of Love
Let us most of all remember the power of love. "Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease;where there are tongues,they will be restrained;where there is knowledge, it will be dismissed" (1 Cor 13:8). Albert Einstein was the epitome of knowledge, one of the greatest minds of all-time. Moreover, he was a very wise man. Let us strive to follow the example of his 1938 timeless love letter to his daughter.
The Debate Channel
Love is hard to come by. Although everyone needs love, it is tough to give because it takes sacrifice and selflessness and we have all been bitten by the snake of selfishness. In this time of polarity, we first have to commit to coming together peacefully in the same room. allowing each other to speak and be willing to authentically listen without simply preparing our response. Indeed, It is time to initiate The Debate Channel? Most television and radio channels are one-sided, base-firming organizations with any debate lasting not much longer than a few minutes; and four-on-one shouldn't count, either. We are not talking about holding just a few debates prior to an election, but an ongoing, weekly series of debates in prime time on the full spectrum of issues that divide our nation. Bring the best and most skillful debaters to oppose each other and allow the American people to think critically with open-minds and arrive at consensus. The aroma of truth will eventually rise to well-meaning people, forming a consensus to drive decision making and this will be considered the greatest exercise of critical thinking are nation has ever held. The power will then really be in the people's hands.