Critical thinking | Why being critical is not the same as criticism
Not enough people today employ essential critical thinking skills. Often, people are too focused on simply agreeing with popular ideas, and going with the pack, for fear of being seen as someone who “criticizes”. As I have said before, people tend to criticize those they admire, but there is a difference between being critical and criticism.
I was accused of criticism recently, on social media: I got into a small Instagram stoush the other week and it’s been bothering me ever since. There seems to be a trend on social media, particularly Instagram, where people are so achingly “positive” about their journeys. Whatever they are doing, whatever they have been recently through, and whatever they say to others needs to be dripping in what I find to be mindless optimism.
Previously I wrote in my post Happiness is NOT the goal. Here’s Why.
“Happiness is determined by our psychology towards our experiences. It is technically possible to have what some would consider an ‘unhappy set of circumstances’ and still be happy. It is possible to have everything in the world and be miserable. Happiness has nothing to do with who you are, what you have, what has happened and what might happen. Happiness is a feeling you get when you emotionally react to something.”
Today everyone on Instagram is #happy #livingmybestlife #positive and #blessed – and I personally find this really #fake.
My online argument with a wellness expert
I recently had the misfortune to come across this “wellness expert” on Instagram. Long story short, he has a book out that talks about the concept of “smart carbs” – meaning that (he believes) that some carbohydrates are healthier for the body than others. Like many people, I subscribe to the notion that to the body, a carb is a carb and a gram of fat is a gram of fat – I do not believe that the body really knows the difference, and I said as much.
“Get the hell off my page!” the wellness expert wailed. “How dare you question my science!” Not stopping there, this so-called wellness guru decided to head to my personal Instagram, and blast me. Not only that, he basically went after just about anyone who questioned his eyebrow raising “science”; and rather than backing up his claims, simply decided to slam all those who would dare critique him. This is not the mark of an intelligent person. This is how someone who is not confident in their product and method reacts.
I believe that this Instagram “wellness expert” should be more open to people using critical thinking to dispute his spurious claims. “Critical thinking” is an essential ingredient in todays’ social media landscape.
Critical thinking helps you weigh up the likeliness and validity of someone’s claims; good or bad. Going back to the notion of “smart carbs” – at the end of the day, whether some carbs are “good and some are “bad” is countered by medical professionals worldwide. Even Web MD agrees.
“Some carbs are better than others, but it’s not really a question of one carb being ‘good’ and one being ‘bad,'” says Jack Alhadeff, professor of biochemistry. But that’s not really my point here. My point is about people underusing their critical thinking capabilities; and this is causing the phenomena of “fake news” to perpetuate. The wellness expert should invite, and encourage, people to think critically about his claims, not attack them for being what he perceives as “negative”. Here’s why.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe. So, if I tell you a sweeping statement like, “some carbs are good, and some carbs are bad” your job is to question “why”. Critical thinking allow us to break an argument down, and to assess its points, so that you can discover for yourself how true something is, rather than just relying on what you are told.
“Much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced,” explains The Foundation For Critical Thinking. “Yet, the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought.” The ability to think critically is essential to the human race, and to people advancing their lives and societies.
So, if I tell you that some carbs are “bad” you might choose to eliminate these from your diet. And if my initial claims are wrong, then you could be doing yourself more harm than good. Not believing everything you’re told carte blanche is a smart mechanism to invite into your life.
It pays to question ideas, trends, social movements, politicians, ways of being, yourself, your partner, others, doctors and Instagram wellness experts. Being a seeker of knowledge is never anything to be ashamed of, and if you have questions to ask, then ask them… and if someone tells you not to question their thinking, then think again twice. No one’s claims are above critical thinking. Not mine, not Einstein’s and not this wellness expert.
Why is critical thinking important?
I have always loved a good debate. I am a Libran, a philosopher at heart, and I was an award winning debater at school. Being on a debating team, you need to be comfortable debating either one of the sides of an argument. Being able to see many sides to a story makes you a good critical thinker, and develops rational thought.
“Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking,” says S. M. Rayhanul Islam, an independent researcher. “It’s crucial for self-reflection. In order to live a meaningful life and to structure our lives accordingly, we need to justify and reflect on our values and decisions.”
Sure, it may seem like a small issue when discussing something as banal or seemingly harmless as whether there are good carbs and bad carbs, but at the core root of this problem, is dictators’ ability to shut down people’s abilities to critically think. If people are too afraid to voice criticisms of an idea, a notion, a platform or a practice for fear of retribution, then poor, and even dangerous ideas can perpetuate.
What is the difference between critical thinking and criticism?
There is almost no greater insult on social media these days than to be called a troll, and these days, all it takes to be called a troll is to disagree with someone’s point of view. But disagreeing with people, and looking at other points of view is essential for critical thinking, which is essential for rational thought.
A few years ago I was really upset by the Polish wedding chair hoax. The story goes like this: “These chairs were laid out for a wedding in 1939 in Poland. The wedding was abandoned, and so were the chairs due to the German invasion. They were found again after the war with the trees growing through them. Every year they are repainted.”
Now, I saw this being widely circulated on social media, and it made me mad. It made me so mad because it was so obviously a hoax, and people failed to use their critical thinking skills, and they fell for it. What’s worse, when I pointed out to some of my social media friends that this was clearly a hoax, they got mad at me, and told me that I was being negative, and ruining a nice, romantic story.
I mean, think about it.
Why weren’t the chairs half way up the trunks by now? Why weren’t the chairs lost, stolen, damaged or moved? It just literally makes no sense, and yet many, many people fell for it. And this really bothered me. People need to start to think more critically about what they are told – if they don’t, they will easily be misled. In the case of the Polish wedding chairs, it might be harmless – but what are the deeper ramifications to our society?
Employing critical thinking is an essential life skill
So, if someone tells you that some carbs are “smart” and some carbs are “dumb”; or if someone tells you a story about Polish wedding chairs that sounds implausible, or if someone quotes Marilyn Monroe to you, and you think the quote sounds suspicious – then do your own critical research. Don’t just believe everything you are told, or even everything you can see – question, question and question some more. Learning to be critical is an essential life skill.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio