Before you Criticise – Think Critically

We’ve had some heated discussions in our house this weekend! I hope recent global events such as the passing of Queen Elizabeth II have prompted some contemplation for you too, but without heated conflict. This contention has prompted me to think about thinking.

As a white child raised in a Christian middle class family in suburban Sydney, I was not taught to challenge authority nor to ask questions that might provoke serious thought or discussion. Asking better questions and #criticalthinking has been a learned skill that I have improved upon over the years through education, interest and being in awe of people who were passionate about causes and had the data to back up their stances.

Yet my children seem to have learned at a younger age to be critical thinkers. I must really thank their educators – one of the first times I heard of Edward deBono’s Six Thinking Hats was when my children were being taught it in primary school!

Critical Thinking can be learned

Critical thinking is the ability to question, analyse, interpret, evaluate and make judgement on what we read and hear, and of course the output of that is what we say and write and decisions we make. According to a Monash University article, no one is born this way. It is a great relief to know we can learn and improve our critical thinking through practice and application.

Pointers from the Monash University article which I have incorporated into my Problem-Solving Skills class are:

  • Clarify purpose and context – What is it about and is it important?
  • Questions sources – What data do you have?
  • Identify arguments – What are people saying (hypothesis)?
  • Analyse – Examine the data.
  • Evaluate – Test the hypotheses.
  • Create your argument – What have you found?

A personal lesson that showed up again this weekend, is that we are better critical thinkers when we are not tired and emotional. (Tip: don’t argue with a hung-over 20-year-old!). But on a serious note, to think critically and solve problems, it helps to step back from the emotion of an issue. Understanding and acknowledging mistakes, frustration and pain is important for classifying urgency and importance of problems, but we can be more useful as problem solvers if we aren’t caught up in the emotion.

Change sometimes scares us and sometimes excites us, and the world is changing more rapidly every day. I believe we have a responsibility to shape it as best we can. It is so easy to sit in judgement without contribution. My wish for you is to move beyond reaction and to think critically when solving whatever problems you are currently facing.