Words of Wellness: Opening

September 29, 2021 - Culture of Caring - Claudia Finkelstein

This past weekend I had the opportunity to witness an open mind. The willingness to consider a different perspective and a subsequent thirst for more exposure to varying points of view was an honor to witness. For my friend, this perspective shift was nothing short of electric and energizing.

The shift took place during and after a series of public presentations which I attended with a group of friends. One member of the group, a self-made white male of a certain age who had never lived outside of the United States was flushed with excitement. I was fairly certain that he had not examined his role, his privilege or his socio-economic class as a white man in Michigan. I was delighted to see his willingness to do so.

My friend, buoyant with curiosity, was thrilled to have had his mind blown and perspective shifted. In conversations after the lectures, he questioned how he might continue to be exposed to new viewpoints. His sincere desire to continue to expand his horizons got me thinking about how often I examine my own set of biases (not often enough) and the lenses through which I view the world.

It made me begin to question whether I had become intellectually lazy, taking multiple Heuristic  shortcuts as opposed to engaging in critical thinking. There is a certain comfort in believing in immutable truths and a definite discomfort in questioning everything. This led me to search for a good definition of critical thinking. The search resulted in too many elaborate definitions. Instead, I found it easier to look for core principles and questions that I can use to evaluate theories, news articles, editorials, etc., more critically.

These days, when everything seems to be up for debate, when the same data set merely reinforces ‘each side’s’ underlying beliefs, I think some of the things that I learned may help all of us. So here are a few tips that I have gleaned.

Asking yourself ‘is this a fact or an opinion?’ is a great start. For example, MSU has a football team (fact) which is the greatest of the Big Ten (I know we think of it as fact, but actually, it’s opinion) and currently holds a 4-0 record (fact). Often, we are presented with opinion as fact and making the distinction between the two is critical. After discerning fact or opinion, you can apply the following questions to what you are reading/hearing, listening specifically for:

  • Clarity – what are they trying to say?
  • Accuracy – can they back it up?
  • Relevance – do arguments relate to the topic at hand?
  • Depth- does it address complexity?
  • Breadth – are there alternate points of view?
  • Logic – does it contradict itself?

For more detail watch this video.

It’s often helpful to examine these issues and discuss with others, or when alone, in writing for clarity. There is also a model of critical thinking, the Plymouth model, which provides a series of questions that you can ask. The questions are divided into the following three main stages of reviewing what you are reading:  description, analysis, and evaluation. Here is an outline for specific questions.

I intend to sharpen my critical thinking skills by examining my responses to news articles that I do and do not agree with and see how they hold up. I invite you to do the same.

Read more Words of Wellness from the Culture of Caring.