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Self-Help

Essential Life Lessons: Think for Yourself

“Thinking is difficult, that is why most people judge”

Carl Jung

Essential life lessons: Before you assume, learn the fact. Before you judge, understand why. Before you hurt someone, feel. Before you speak, think. Thinking is part of what makes us human. What differentiates humans from animals is our cognitive abilities such as fully developed language, reasoning capabilities, and the ability to make plans for the future. We are all born with the capacity to think, but not everyone is capable of critical thinking, and it is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced with discipline.

Socrates is credited for being the first critical thinker and the Socratic method is one of the earliest critical thinking instructions tools known to man. The Socratic method is described as a form of a cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.

Essential Life lessons: Think for yourself. I think therefore I am – Rene Descartes

Essential Life Lessons. Think for yourself. I think therefore I am . Photo by freepik via freepik.com

Critical thinking means many things, but at heart, it is a search for the truth. Critical thinking helps us determine what is real and what it is not. But before we are able to exercise our cognitive ability to think critically, we need to have a certain base of knowledge as a starting point. We can only think critically about things we have knowledge of, and we don’t have the structures in place to think deeply if we haven’t spent time mastering a body of knowledge related to that thinking.

Critical thinking can be understood as a deep activity, one that requires the development of new habits of mind. It is not something that comes to us naturally, it requires extensive study and practice. When we have our critical thinking hat on, we develop our problem-solving capabilities and our ability to look at the strengths and weaknesses of an argument; the result is that we are more able to see things clearly and this can help us make better decisions.Critical thinking is a skill; to be good at it, you will have to spend time practicing the art of thinking for yourself.

We all like to think of ourselves as rational, strategic creatures, but in reality, humans are deeply irrational and are often governed by emotion rather than logic. Moreover, we have a tendency to operate within our own echo chamber, where the only information that goes through our brain is information that validates our prior knowledge, vindicates our prior decisions, or sustains our existing beliefs.

“The problem isn’t that Johnny can’t read. The problem isn’t even that Johnny can’t think. The problem is that Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is; he confuses it with feeling”.

Thomas Sowell

We should get into the habit from time to time of walking down the road less traveled, the one taken by critical thinkers. If you decide to walk down that road it will require that you possess a certain fluidity of mind, some discipline, and be driven by the will to get to the truth of the matter rather than the urge to be righteous no matter what.

Skills required to be able to think for yourself.

Essential life lessons. Skills required to think for yourself. Photo by freepik via freepik.com

Rationality. We think critically when we rely on reason rather than emotion when we follow the evidence when we are more concerned with finding the best explanation rather than being right, and when we get into a habit of asking questions.

Self-awareness. We think critically when we recognize that we suffer from emotional impulses, selfish motives, nefarious purposes, narrow-minded vision, and other modes of self-deception.

Open-mindedness. We think critically when we evaluate all reasonable inferences, consider a variety of possible viewpoints or perspectives, remain open to alternative interpretations accept the new explanations, models or paradigms, because it explains the evidence better, is simpler, or has fewer inconsistencies. We cannot reject opinions just because they are unpopular.

Discipline. We think critically when we are precise, meticulous, comprehensive exhaustive, resist manipulation and irrational appeals, and avoid snap judgments.

Judgment. We think critically when we recognize the relevance and/or merit of alternative assumptions and perspectives and recognize the extent and weight of evidence. Critical thinkers are skeptical by nature. They are active and not passive. They ask questions and analyze facts and data. They consistently apply tactics and strategies to uncover meaning or assure their understanding. Critical thinkers are open to new ideas and perspectives. They are willing to challenge their beliefs and investigate competing evidence.

By contrast, passive, non-critical thinkers take a simplistic view of the world. They see things in black and white, as either-or, rather than recognizing a variety of possible understandings. They see questions as yes or no with no subtleties. They fail to see linkages and complexities. They fail to recognize related elements. They take their facts as the only relevant ones. They take their perspectives as the only sensible ones. They consider their goal as the only valid one.

Essential life lessons. Learn to navigate your way through misinformation and disinformation.

Essential Life Lessons. Learn to navigate your way through misinformation and disinformation.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact; everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Marcus Aurelius

We are living in a world of information overload, data about almost everything is available to all who wish to access it at the click of a button. We are constantly bombarded by a steady stream of information (sometimes misinformation, exaggerations, and mischaracterizations) about a whole range of subject matters, making it very difficult to know what and who to believe.

Critical thinking is important because we need this skill in order to navigate our way through all the information, misinformation, and disinformation that is being served to us on a daily basis on all media platforms.Misinformation is false information that is being spread, regardless of intent to mislead. Dis-information on the other hand is false information that is deliberately misleading or biased information, manipulated narrative or facts, or propaganda that is being spread with the intent to hurt or damage a person or organization.

Trying to nail down the authenticity of anything and verify our knowledge about the world is a tall order. We are huge consumers of all types of media, but often lack the tools to think about how and why we are passively consuming what we watch, read, and share. We are inundated with news. How can one discern between real news and fake news? We are often not thinking about how our own biases affect how we think about the world. We are also getting comfortable in our echo chambers, devoid of people and ideas who challenge our own beliefs.

We expect Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Google to filter the truth for us, rather than putting in the hard work to do some thinking for ourselves. Some social media posts go viral in minutes after they are posted whether they carry with them the truth or an exaggeration of the truth or total falsehood. There is always the option of fact-checking some of the information such as Factcheck.org or Snopes website. The problem is that if the counter-information is not shared in the same manner as the viral post the damage from the false post cannot be counteracted. Another problem that happens more and more these days is that you have to fact-check the fact-checkers who may not be as impartial as one may think. Follow the money and see who is financing those fact-checkers.

There is a scientific term for this in psychology, it is called the Illusory Truth Effect also known as the Reiteration Effect, it is the tendency to believe the information to be correct (even if it is not) after repeated exposure to that same information. Repeated affirmation fixes itself in the mind in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth. Many studies have been conducted on this, and the conclusion is that familiarity overcomes rationality the truth does not matter. Repetition does!

“The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent. The media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing. This is the sort of propaganda tactic that I would call psychological warfare.”

Malcolm X

Essential life lessons: Even experts can be wrong.

The other tendency is to relinquish your power to think critically on someone else and rely on the opinion of the experts instead. Society needs experts because those people know a thing or two about their own area of expertise, they are specialized in their field and are being paid to share their knowledge, wisdom, and experience with the world at large.

This said, whenever you decide to ask an expert for his advice on a particular matter, I suggest you put your critical thinking hat on to ensure that you fully understand the advice you are being given, the scope and limitations of the adviser’s expertise, his or her ability to see the problem in its proper context, the possibility that these experts may be subject to bias and in the worst-case scenario, the possibility that the expert may be wrong.

History is full of anecdotes showing that even the experts can be wrong. In 1968, Time Magazine made the observation that “online shopping while entirely feasible will flop.” In 2019, worldwide online shopping reached nearly 43.7 trillion. In 1876, senior executives at Western Union made the following statement: “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. It is inherently of no value.” In early 2017, Apple announced that it has sold 216 million iPhones.

No one, including experts, really know with absolute certainty what will happen in the future. Every time there is a national disaster, a pandemic, or some dramatic event, we can rely on television news to find an expert to come on TV and generously share his predictions and knowledge on why this happened and what will happen next. The truth of the matter is that sometimes those experts are wrong.

Critical thinking is more than important, it is vital. Without critical thinking, you will be another sheeple lost on the crowd and dutifully following the trend of the moment and absorbing the world’s accepted view. Critical thinking is a skill that should be nurtured and valued.

The world needs critical thinkers more than ever. The ability to think about things in a critical way will make a difference to you and the people around you.

“I think (critically) therefore I am (free).

Knowledge is power and thinking critically is freedom. And this, my dear friend, is your Quest.

Personal Note

DDI Chat – Personal Growth – One-to-one Chat with Joanne Reed

In addition to publishing my articles on my website, I have also been publishing on Medium. I have been working closely for the past months with Data-Driven Investor (DDI) Publication.  DDI has recently launched a new marketplace/platform where people can book a paid one-to-one session with an expert of their choice.  DDI asked me to join their panel of advisors/experts in the Leadership, Coaching, and Personal Growth category.  Here is my profile. If you wish to book a one-to-one chat with me you can do so on this platform.

For more on this subject you can purchase my book This is Your Quest online at BookLocker, from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.  The Ebook version is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks) & Kobo. Check out my Amazon Author Page here or my listing on Booksradar.com.

The audio version of my book “This Is your Quest ” is available. Feel free to check it out and use this special Promotion code.

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Self-Help Uncategorized

Do you want to know what is the problem in the world? read on …

What is the problem with the World? There are endless problems in the world too many to list, but I was thinking that it would be an intellectually challenging exercise to try to put my finger on it. A foolish endeavor you may think. Maybe. Only a fool or a wise man could seriously pretend to know the answer to this question. I happen to know a wise and eccentric philosopher (Bertrand Russell [1]) who pondered over this question and who came up with an answer that is quite remarkable.

The problem with the world is that fools, and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people are always so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

Et voila, in just one sentence Bertrand Russell sums it up. So, now that we have the answer to the question, let’s look at this more closely to see what we find out when we dissect Bertrand Russell’s statement. Pretend you are sitting comfortably in a theater to see the latest production of this Shakespearean tragedy or comedy, depending on your sense of humor, titled: “What Is the Problem With the World”. There are three main characters on stage, the Fool, the Fanatic, and the Wise Man.

Act I – Do you want to know what is the problem in the world ? Ask the Fool he believes he knows best

Do you want to know what is the problem in the world? The Fool knows best – Photo by Kapone via freepik.com

The fool is grandiose (borderline annoying), confident (borderline arrogant), flamboyant (borderline tacky) and walks through life feeling absolutely certain about everything. A fool is set in his opinions and feels that he has a duty to share his way of thinking about this and that and everything important. A fool does not care to take counsel from others nor listen to their opinions, because he knows best. He has no fluidity of mind and is set in his ways.

New opinions are rejected and opposed just because they don’t fit the accepted idea and concepts that the fool has adopted as hard truth. The fool’s arrogant certainty about everything is set in stone and even King Arthur would not be able to dislodge him from that position. The problem with the fool is that he doesn’t know enough to know that he doesn’t know about the things he thinks he knows.

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – Erasmus

Act II – Do you want to know what is the problem in the world? Ask the Fanatic he believes he has access to absolute truth

Do you want to know what is the problem in the world? The fanatic believes he has access to absolute truth. Photo by Anna Oddi via freepik.com

The fanatic is not a fool because he is a true believer in his cause and spends a substantial amount of his time learning about the cause he is fighting for. But just like the fool, he feels absolute and resolute certainty in his belief. The Fanatic refuses to hear and contemplate opposing views. You can find fanatics in all areas of life religion, politics, sports, media, etc. Fanatics can be leaders or followers, they are people who indulge in a toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence believing that they have unique access to absolute truth, truth so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.

It is not what they believe that makes them fanatics it is how they believe it – no need to provide further evidence, no need to question or doubt. They operate in an irrational and emotional manner hiding their irrationality by rehearsed arguments that have been repeated and learned over time, not refreshed, updated, or put to the test. Fanatics are rigid in their thinking. The problem with this is that nothing is really certain what is true today may not be true tomorrow.

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd one”

Voltaire

Our two main Shakespearean characters, the Fool and the Fanatic will not give a second thought to Voltaire’s adage because they remain certain and dogmatic in their beliefs.

Act III – The Wise Man believes that he knows nothing

Do you want to tknow what is the problem in the world? Photo by user 24028417 via freepik.com

According to the Ancient Greeks, the source of all wisdom and clarity is to know thyself. That Motto knows thyself was one of the maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

“The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.”

Socrates

According to the Wise Man of Ancient Greece, you may find the path to wisdom, if you start from a position of humility and if you accept the extent of your ignorance. A lot of us like to think of ourselves as pretty smart, rational individuals and funny too. But what if we’re wrong? Do we overestimate our own abilities? Are we completely blind to our own failings?

Socrates is known as the wisest man in Athens, but he doubted this very much until he put it to the test. Socrates’ favorite pastime was the pursuit of Truth. His reputation as a philosopher spread across Athens and beyond. When told that the Oracle of Delphi revealed to one of his friends that he was the wisest man in Athens, Socrates responded, not by boasting or celebrating, but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong.

Socrates decided to find out if anyone knew what was truly worthwhile in life, as anyone who knew that would surely be wiser than him. He questioned everyone he could find, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer. Instead, they all pretended to know something they clearly did not. Finally, he realized that the Oracle might be right after all; he was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was prepared to admit his own ignorance rather than pretend to know something he did not.

The Wise man is humble in his knowledge, he is open-minded and recognizes that he has limited knowledge; and because he knows that there are so many things that he doesn’t know, he has doubts. The Wise Man understands that someone else may have knowledge that he doesn’t have, and this could lead him to change his opinion on this and that. He has fluidity of mind, he is not rigid in his view and his pursuit of the truth will lead him to question everything.

Ladies and gentlemen we are coming to the end of this production, thank you for reading this Shakespearean piece. And with this said, I will give the floor to the man himself for the final word.

“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

Shakespeare.

PS: If you like this piece, feel free to applaud and comment. If you didn’t like this piece, feel free to criticize it not in a fanatical kind of way but after careful consideration just like a Wise Man would do; and I will try my best not to react to your comments in a foolish kind of way.

[1] Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872- 2 February 1970), British philosopher, mathematician, historian, political activist, and Nobel Laureate.

For more on this subject you can purchase my book This is Your Quest online at BookLocker, from Amazon or from Barnes & Noble.  The Ebook version is available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Apple (iBooks) & Kobo. Check out my Amazon Author Page here or my listing on Booksradar.com.

The audio version of my book “This Is your Quest ” is available. Feel free to check it out and use this special Promotion code