I was still a “sweet young thang” of 24 years, still listening to parents, the church, the government, the schools, everyone but myself, when I had a small but pivotal experience. I had an older friend, a woman that I was slightly afraid of because she tended to chew people up and spit them out on a regular basis. At least that was how I thought of her back then. Nevertheless, I liked her because she always seemed so clear about what she thought and wanted.
One day I read an article in the newspaper. It was brief and had to do with international relationships. I can’t remember now exactly what it said, but at the time, I was upset or unsettled and thought it was important for my friend to know about as well, so I took it to her and insisted she read it. When she did, I began spouting my opinions and attitudes about the article, only to be cut off at the knees when she handed it back to me and fired off a barrage of questions, “What do you know about the guy who wrote this? What is his agenda? Why does he use those particular words? How is he trying to hook you? Who benefits from this deal? Look at the bias of the newspaper itself! What does the article imply? What is it trying to get you to believe…to think…to feel? What is the history of international relationships between these countries? Where does this fit in the bigger picture of life and government and other countries today?”
I stood there in shock. Her questions implied that I did not know nearly enough to have an opinion of anything! They also implied that I had not done my homework. I was dismayed that I would have to do so much more work and pay attention to so many more boring details instead of allowing myself to get all worked up over a few juicy tidbits put out there solely to get me in a froth.
I only remember saying to her, “Where did you learn to think like that???” Suddenly, I wanted to see why things happened and know the understand the underbelly of life as it flowed through me and others.
What she presented that day was a small example of critical thinking. It is something we need right now in the U.S. If we don’t know HOW we have arrived at our present state of affairs…if we don’t know the hidden side of why people do what they do…if we aren’t looking outside the framework presented in a solitary news story… if we aren’t assembling a bigger picture of what is going on than the picture presented by the “authorities”… then we have not learned to think for ourselves or reached the point of critical thinking and will make serious mistakes in our choices for the future.