A Purely Philosophical Explanation
The ability to think critically is imperative to our understanding of the world, yet, possibly the most difficult set of principles to grasp for many. It is a difficult concept because aside from the skill set required to apply it to our daily lives, it requires an attitudinal approach to its application. It is obvious to some that in order to find the truth, one must be willing to see it for what it is, one must want to know it despite of how one feels about it. We need to accept the possibility that the results of our inquiries may not be reconcilable with our emotions. This is in and of itself a challenge, considering the subjectivity of happiness.
Here, I take the opportunity to ask you, my reader a question that was posed to me by a dear friend many years ago: if you had to choose, would you rather be correct or happy? I will neither attempt to answer this for you nor do I expect you to arrive at a conclusion by merely reading this script – it was for me, after all, a journey of many years to realize that I could not be one without the other. Instead, I want to plant the seed of an idea, which has the potential to change the way you look at life and reality in general.
This question is revealing of what makes thinking critically such a difficult suggestion for some of us. It is implied by the nature of emotion and the role it plays in our experience that many of us will want or have to make a choice between the two – truth or happiness. It follows then, at least superficially, that many will take the option of being emotionally satisfied over being correct. The psychological insinuations of this are many, but the one that seems to govern this process of choice is our desire to always be content with our circumstances. Humans want to be happy and on these grounds we are entitled, in a sense, to justify our means toward the best state possible. Our complex brain is always searching for ways to organize its environment and in so doing to lessen the information load provided it by this environment. Order, it seems, needs to be established even when contrived.
Different questions arise directly from the exploration of the previous one regarding the actual level of happiness one could achieve without knowing the truth, even if only about the immediate context of an experience. Personally, it was becoming aware that I was (sometimes barely consciously) able to self-deceive to avoid suffering that led to a fundamental change. I was heavily biased in defense of the people I knew, and more so of those whom I loved. I respected the things I liked, and believed in that which came from those I cared for. The change was to my attitude towards the truth, and my own thinking process.
The decision to test and challenge what we think we know and how we know it seems to come from a desire to be happy by knowing the truth, and therein lays a complex paradox. Can everyone think critically? Or can everyone be taught the skills required to think critically? Yes, but the process, as it is with any form of important education is more difficult for some. I believe that the main objective of those willing to take on this challenging process is to guide others to understand the attitudinal change that needs to take place in the observer. We need to guide people to want to look at reality more objectively and to understand that our emotions, as important as they are, can keep us from achieving different levels of happiness and psychological freedom.
I’ll admit that this is merely a portion of my philosophy towards thinking and that I still have many questions. I know that all these hypotheses require further investigation, by definition. I also know that if my examination of these propositions leads me to know that I am wrong, I will accept different conclusions detached from emotion or personal bias; it’s how I plan to grow and become better than what I am today.