Thinking Critically Ch

The challenge you face is to create a coherent view of the world that expresses who you are as well as the person you want to become. It should be a vision that not only guides your actions but also enables you to understand the value of your experiences, the significance of your relationships, and the meaning of your life. The quality of your life philosophy is a direct result of your abilities to think critically and think creatively, abilities that you have been developing while working on activities presented throughout this book.
But a life philosophy is incomplete until it is acted upon through the decisions you make, decisions dad possible by your ability to choose freely. These are the three life principles of human transformation upon which this book is based: thinking critically, living creatively, choosing freely. These three principles are interlocking pieces of the puzzle of your life. Working together as a unified force, these principles can illuminate your existence: answering questions, clarifying confusion, creating meaning, and providing fulfillment.
Think critically: When used properly, your thinking process acts like a powerful beacon of light, illuminating the depths of your personality and the reader of your experience. Clear thinking is a tool that helps you disentangle the often confused jumble of thoughts and feelings that compose much of your waking consciousness. By becoming a more powerful critical thinker, you are acquiring the abilities you need to achieve your goals, solve problems, and make intelligent decisions. Critical thinkers are people who have developed thoughtful and well-founded beliefs to guide their choices in every area of their lives.
In order to develop the strongest and most accurate beliefs possible, you need to become aware of your own biases, explore situations room many different perspectives, and develop sound reasons to support your points of view. Live creatively: Creativity is a powerful life force that can infuse your existence with meaning. Working in partnership with critical thinking, creative thinking helps you transform your life into a rich tapestry of productivity and success. When you approach your life with a mindful sense of discovery and invention, you can continually create yourself in ways limited only by your imagination.
A creative lens changes everything for the better: Problems become opportunities for growth, mundane routines become halogens for inventive approaches, relationships become intriguing adventures. When you give free rein to your creative impulses, every aspect of your life takes on a special glow. You are able to break out of unthinking habitual responses and live fully in every minute, responding naturally and spontaneously. It sounds magical, and it is. Choose freely: People can transform themselves only if they choose to take different paths in their lives-?and only if their choices are truly free.
To exercise genuine freedom, you must have the insight to understand all of your options and the wisdom o make informed choices. When you fully accept your freedom, you redefine your daily life and view your future in a new light. By working to neutralize the constraints on your autonomy and guide your life in positive directions, you see alternatives that were not previously visible, having been concealed by the limitations of your previous vision. Your future becomes open, a field of rich possibilities that you can explore and choose among.
A life that is free is one that is vital and exciting, suffused with unexpected opportunities and the personal fulfillment that comes from a life well lived. Your “self’ is, in its essence, a dynamic life force that is capable of thinking critically, creating, and choosing freely. These three essential dimensions of your self exist optimally when they work together in harmonious unity. When working together, these three basic elements create a person who is intelligent, creative, and determined-?the ingredients for success in any endeavor.
Consider the unfortunate consequences of subtracting any of these elements from the dynamic equation. If you lack the ability to think critically, you won’t be able to function very well in most challenging careers because you will eave difficulty thinking clearly, solving complex problems, and making intelligent decisions. What’s more, whatever creative ideas you come up with will be rootless, lacking an intelligible framework or practical strategies for implementing them. You will be an impractical dreamer, condemned to a life of frustrated underachieving.
Without insight into yourself, your freedom will be imprisoned because you won’t be able to see your choices clearly or to liberate yourself from the influences that are constraining you. F you lack the ability to think creatively, then your thinking abilities may enable you to perform in a solid, workmanlike fashion, but your work will lack imagination, you will be afraid to try original approaches because of the risk of failure, and your personality will be lacking the spontaneous sparkle that people admire and are drawn to.
You will in time become a competent but unimaginative “worker bee,” performing your duties with predictable adequacy but never rising to the lofty heights that you are capable of attaining. Your choices will be as limited as your imagination, and your habitual choices of safe and secure paths will eventually create a very small canvas for your personal portrait. You lack the ability to choose freely, then your abilities to think critically or creatively cannot save you from a life of disappointment.
Though you may be able to clearly analyze and understand, you will lack the will to make the difficult choices and stay the course when you encounter obstacles and adversities. And though you may develop unique and valuable ideas, your inability to focus your energies and make things happen will doom these ideas to anonymity. Because you lack the will to create yourself as a strong individual of character and integrity, the people you encounter will come to IEEE you as a shallow-rooted reed that bends with the wind of superficial trends, not as someone deserving of authority and responsibility.
Think of what you aspire to have: a life of purpose and meaning the respect and devotion of those around you, success and fulfillment in your chosen endeavors, and a secure sense of who you are, a person with the courage and vision to accomplish great things. These aspirations are within your grasp, but only if you develop all of these fundamental dimensions of your self to their fullest potential: the abilities to think critically, think creatively, and choose freely. Choose Freely You have the power to create yourself through the choices that you make, but only if your choices are truly free.
To exercise genuine freedom you must possess the insight to understand all of your options and the wisdom to make informed choices. In many instances passive, illogical, and superficial thinking inhibits people’s abilities to make intelligent choices and erodes their motivation to persevere when obstacles are encountered. This section is designed to provide you with a general framework for understanding the nature of free choice and the practical thinking strategies needed to translate his understanding into transformed behaviors and attitudes.
You can redefine your daily life in a new light and enhance its value through free choices derived from thinking critically and creatively. Condemned to Be Free Man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world, he is responsible for everything he does. Jean-Paul Sartre This book is based on the conviction, articulated here by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, that we create ourselves through the choices that we make, ND that we are capable of choosing different courses of action.
But often we get so caught up in routine, so mired in the day-to-day demands of reality and the pressures of conformity that we don’t even see alternatives to our condition, much less act on them. Our complaints often far outnumber our shining moments, as we tend to focus on the forces and people that have thwarted our intentions. “If only got the breaks now and then . “If only could get rid of my habitual tendency to I would . These complaints, and millions of others like them, bitterly betray W. E. Hanley notion that “l am the master of my fate, am the captain of my soul.
It is much more common for people to believe that fate mastered them and that they never had sufficient opportunity to live life ‘their way. ” Instead of feeling free, we often feel beleaguered, trying desperately to prevent our small dinghy from getting swamped in life’s giant swells, rather than serenely charting a straight course in our sleek sailboat. The end result is that when people think of “being free,” they often conjure up a romantic notion of “getting away/’ from their concerns and responsibilities, imagining a world where anything is possible and there is plenty of money to pay for it.
However appealing this fantasy may be, it is a misconceived and unrealistic notion of freedom. Genuine freedom consists of making thoughtful choices from among the available options, choices that reflect your genuine desires and deepest values, resisting the pressures to surrender your autonomy to external pressures or internal forces. The most important and disturbing element of personal freedom is that it necessarily involves personal responsibility. And personal responsibility is the main reason why people are reluctant to embrace their freedom and in fact actively seek to “escape” from it.
If you acknowledge author choices are ere, then you must accept that you are responsible for the outcome of your choices. When you are successful, it is easy to take full responsibility for your success. But when failure occurs, people tend to dive for cover, blaming others or forces outside of their control. This is exactly what’s going on in all the preceding “If only’ statements and many others like them: they each express the belief that if only some outside force had not intervened, people would have achieved the goals they set for themselves.
However, in many instances, these explanations are bogus, and these efforts to escape from redeem are illegitimate. They represent weak and inauthentic attempts to deny freedom and responsibility. Free Choice: The Mainspring of Human Action Every day we are confronted with the mystery of human action. One person commits an armed robbery, killing a guard in the process. Another person is found to have embezzled large sums of money from the charitable organization he directed. A firefighter risks his life to save the life of an infant trapped in a burning building.
A peaceful protest gets out of control and turns into a violent and destructive altercation. A respected member of the immunity is accused of abusing the children on the teams that he coached. Two teenagers are accused of murdering their newborn infant and dumping the body in a garbage container. An 84-year-old woman who spent her life cleaning the homes of others donates her life a local college with which she had no previous relationship. In each of these instances, and countless others, we struggle to understand “why/’ people acted the way they did.
Our answers typically depend on our deepest beliefs about the nature of the human self. For example: Human nature: “I believe in human nature; people are born with certain basic instincts that influence and determine how they behave. ” Based on this view, the actions described previously, whether “good” or “evil,” are no more than the natural expression of a universal nature that is genetically hardwired into every person. From this perspective, we should no more hold people responsible for their destructive actions than we would an animal in the wild that kills in order to survive.
There is no possibility of free choice because our actions necessarily follow from our inborn nature, and we cannot be other than who we are. Whether you act virtuously or destructively in your life is ally beyond your control, and you cannot alter your fundamental character. The environment: “l believe that people are shaped by their environment, conditioned by their experiences to be the kind Of people they are. ” From this vantage point, the actions described previously are the direct products of the life experiences that the individuals had.
If the environment in which a person developed was deprived or abusive, then these forces shaped a violent individual with little regard for the rights or lives of others. On the other hand, if you were fortunate enough to grow up in a loving and nurturing environment in which kindness and empathy were considered paramount values, then this upbringing shaped who you are. But once again, you cannot be held responsible for how you turned out because you didn’t choose your environment; you were a passive agent molded by forces beyond your control. And, of course, you are incapable of making free choices.
We should no more condemn the embezzler than we should reward the firefighter who risks his life, since they are each merely products of environments that are ultimately responsible for their behavior. Psychological forces: “l believe that people are governed by psychological ores, many of them unconscious, that cause them to think, feel, and act in certain ways. ” Based on this point of view, the actions described previously are the direct result of deep psychological impulses that have been formed by people’s earliest relationships and experiences.
Although these people may think they are choosing to do the things, in reality, they are puppets manipulated by unseen psychological strings. The same is true for you. So when the coach sexually abused the children on his teams, he was not actually choosing this reprehensible course of action, he was impelled by psychological forces over which he had no control. Similarly, your behavior results from psychological motivations, often repressed, that form the basic structure of your personality. Your feelings of freedom are illusory.
Social dynamics: “l believe that we are social creatures that are greatly influenced by the people around us. ” From this perspective, people’s behavior results in large measure from the forces exerted by those around them. The need to conform to the prevailing norms, to be accepted by the groups to which you belong, to please those who are close to you, to obey those in sections of authority-?these and other social needs determine your behavior and define who you are as an individual. For example, the violent actions of the initially peaceful demonstrators can be understood only by examining the dynamics of social interaction.
Since the group as a whole is to blame, responsibility is removed from the individuals. In the same way, individuals who act illegally (or immorally) within an organization often seek to be exonerated on the grounds that they were merely acting as cogs in the machine, not independent agents. An extreme version of this occurred after World War II at the Murderer trials when many people accused of wartime atrocities explained that they were “only following orders. ” Thinking Activity 12. 1: Your Theory of Human Behavior Think about some of the actions described at the beginning of this section.
How would you explain why those people acted in the ways that they did? Which of the above theories make the most sense to you? Do you have your own theory to explain why people behave the way they do? Creating Yourself Through Free Choices If we examine all of these beliefs regarding the nature of human beings, we can see that they have several significant things in common: These beliefs represent attempts to explain human behavior in terms of factors that precede the action: a universal human nature, past experiences, psychological forces, and social dynamics.
In other words, all of these beliefs assume that the “essence” of a person, as defined by the factors identified previously, comes before the human actions and in fact causes these actions to take place. As a result, all of these beliefs about the human self have the effect of removing responsibility from the individual for his actions. If what you did was the direct result of human nature, past experiences, psychological forces, or social dynamics, then you cannot be held accountable. You didn’t have a choice, your behavior was outside of your control.
As a final consequence, these beliefs about the self limit future possibilities. If your thoughts, feelings, and actions are caused by forces beyond your control, then you do not have it in your power to change, to alter direction, to improve-?any more than a puppet can decide to act independently and contrary to the wishes of the puppeteer. From a framework rooted in human freedom, these traditional perspectives regarding the nature of people can be dangerous and destructive. One of the most passionate and articulate modern exponents of individual freedom was Jean-Paul Sartre.
His position is extreme-?you are completely free. You create yourself entirely through the free choices that you make every day of your life. Though you may try to pretend otherwise, the reality is that you are the originator of your actions, the master of your fate and the captain of your soul, for better or for worse. You may choose to surrender control of your life to other individuals or organizations, but this is ultimately a free choice that you make and for which you are completely responsible. Let’s revisit the examples identified previously and analyze them from this perspective.
Free choice: “l believe that people are free to choose their courses of action, and that they should be held responsible for the choices they make. ” The person who committed the armed robbery and murdered the guard freely chose to steal money and he is completely responsible. He was not compelled to act in this fashion; he could have chosen not to. The person who embezzled money from the charitable organization which he headed freely chose to betray his trusted position out of greed and should be held fully accountable.
The heroic firefighter freely chose to overcome his natural fear of death and risk his life to save someone else’s, and he should be awarded full credit for his heroism. The child abuser freely chose to surrender to his destructive sexual impulses, and he deserves to be condemned and fully punished. The infant-murdering teenagers freely chose to deal with their fear of having an unwanted child by killing it and trying to hide the body (despite having many other alternatives available), and they should be held fully responsible for their choice.
The philanthropic senior citizen freely chose to neonate her money to improve educational opportunities for underprivileged young people rather than spending the money on herself, and she deserves to be praised for her altruism. Each of these people had other alternatives available to them, and they could have made different choices-?but they didn’t. Therefore, they must be held responsible for the choices that they did make. But surely, you might be thinking, I can’t be held completely responsible for my life. After all, there are many factors outside of my control, people and forces that do create obstacles and undermine my efforts.
And we are subject o pressures and influences from within ourselves: feelings of greed, fear of death, altruistic impulses, sexual compulsions, need for social acceptance, and so on. Still, it is up to us to freely choose which impulses, motivations, fears, and desires we want to act in accordance with. In other words, it is up to you, your “self. ” You make the ultimate choice regarding who you want to become and the direction of your life. When you look in the mirror, the person that you see reflected is the person you have created.
If you are pleased with who you are and the state of your life, then you have every right to feel proud. On the other hand, if you are dissatisfied with the person you have become and disappointed with the course of your life, then you have to look no further than yourself to determine who is responsible. You must have the courage to accept full responsibility for your situation, but it is within your power to change, to improve yourself and your life through the free choices that you are able to make. Sartre characterizes humans as the one living creature whose “existence” precedes its “essence. In other words, you create your “essence” (your self, soul, personality) through the free choices that you make in your daily “existence. He explains: Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world-?and defines himself afterwards. Man simply is-?he is what he wills to be after that leap towards existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. This is exactly what distinguishes human consciousness from the rest of the animal kingdom: when confronted with a decision situation, we are able to think about the options available to us and then make a free choice based on our evaluation.
And that makes us responsible for our actions, as Sartre explains: If existence is prior to essence, then man is responsible for what he is, it puts very person in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely on his shoulders. In today’s culture, personal freedom and responsibility are in danger of extinction, threatened by an array of psychological, sociological, and genetic explanations that have the cumulative effect of robbing people of their autonomy and dignity.
It is refreshing and enlightening to view people through the lens of personal freedom, awarding them the power to make free choices for which they are responsible, rather than viewing them as victims Of resistance with little control over their destinies. George Bernard Shaw dismissed this “victimized” view of life when he stated, “l don’t believe in circumstances. Rather than blaming their circumstances, the people who get on in this world create their own. ” Because You Are Free .
This discussion of freedom may seem abstract and theoretical to you, and you might be asking yourself: What difference do my beliefs about personal freedom make in my life? The truth is that along with your beliefs about morality and religion, there is perhaps no other belief that has a greater impact on your life. Here are a few examples. Self-improvement: If you are a person who is constantly striving to improve yourself and the quality of your life, then it is essential that you possess the freedom to make different choices from those you have previously made. Personal freedom is the lifeblood of human change.
By using your critical- thinking abilities, you can identify appropriate goals and intelligent alternatives; by exercising your freedom, you can choose the goals and alternatives that best meet your needs and fulfill your ideals. On the other hand, an exclusive belief in one of the “non-freedom” theories (human nature, environmental determinism, etc. Undermines and even eliminates the possibility of changing yourself. The die has been cast, and whatever the future has in store for you, you cannot influence it in any meaningful way. Morality: Morality deals with the way we relate to people around us.
Societies have developed moral ideals and prohibitions to help their citizens live together in a harmonious and productive fashion. As a result, most societies consider things like murder, robbery, cheating, stealing, and raping to be “wrong,” and they have enacted laws and punishments to discourage antisocial behavior. On the other hand, most societies consider things like impassion, altruism, sharing in communal responsibilities, and working for the good of everyone as well as yourself to be “right,” and this sort of behavior is encouraged through teaching, exhortation, and example.

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