Archive for June, 2014

In my previous posting we briefly explored two of the four elements that are tap roots for critical thinking. As a reminder, the first two of these elements are: Discerning and Naming Our Assumptions and Checking Our Assumptions. Today we will briefly explore the other two.

Seeing Things from Various Points of View. In order to do this I must hold an attitude of being open to the other’s point of view and I must hold an attitude that I will be open to the possibility of being influenced by what is offered to me and I must be open to the possibility that my assumption is not ‘true.’ I know, first hand, that being open in these three ways far from being easy; I often become aware of my resistance when I check to see if I am open in these three ways. If I affirm that I am open in these three ways I can then take the next step: to seek to see my assumption(s) from a variety of points of view. First I might approach them through the multiple lenses of ‘roles’ I play (parent, educator, philosopher, son, sibling, friend, companion). Then I will seek out others that I trust to be ‘truthful’ with me and invite them to provide me with their views. For example, I too often assume that the other interprets my assumption(s) as I do and when I check this out I discover that their interpretation does not mesh with mine; I recall speaking with a colleague a number of years ago about how ‘flexible’ I am (one of my major assumptions) and this person looked at me and responded ‘You are one of the most rigid people I know when it comes to this topic.’ I was stunned – my defenses went up. It took me some time to ‘see’ and ‘understand’ and ‘accept’ what was being offered to me. Today we can laugh at my ‘rigid flexibility.’ It is helpful for me to have others ‘confirm’ or ‘disconfirm’ my assumptions.

Taking Action Rooted in Knowledge and Understanding. The end goal of critical thinking is to take action. Life is too short not to take this type of action (now that I am in my 70th year of life I can truly affirm the old adage that ‘life is too short’). This type of action is supported by understanding and convincing evidence (I had to understand and convince myself that I was, indeed, quite rigid – no one could do this for me). Now, we also know that some ‘evidence’ can be misleading (‘So and so says this is true so it must be true’ – a certain person, a certain group, a certain philosophy, a certain religion). I have a sense that most of us can be ‘seduced’ by the right ‘other’ into accepting ‘their evidence’ (perhaps it is their ‘belief’) without critical judgment (see ingredients 1-3). We must, all of us, be cautious when relying upon people with ‘authority’ or ‘credibility’ or ‘credentials’ regarding their telling us what to think (see Janis re; groupthink, or Fromm re: automaton conformity, or Gramsci re: hegemony); at worst some of these folks are manipulative, seductive or evil and at best they are prejudiced (believe it or not, we are all prejudiced). It is our obligation and responsibility and response-ability to ensure – to the best of our ability – that our actions have the effects we wish them to have; an action rooted in knowledge and understanding is one whose intended effect provides the results we had in mind (I am reminded of the advice: if you are not getting what you want from your actions then change your actions until you obtain the result you want – I ask designated leaders: ‘Does the way you lead get you what you want?’ If it doesn’t then change the way you lead!).

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A few days ago I was visiting my favorite coffee shop and as I was meandering to my table I passed a table of four folks. I had just passed by when I heard, ‘That’s not critical thinking…’ After settling in at my table I emerged this question: ‘What is critical thinking – what does it mean to think critically?’ I’ve been holding this question for more than three days now; yesterday afternoon a reply began to emerge and I made some notes. I am not sure how many postings I will devote to this topic, but it will be more than one. So, ‘What is critical thinking?’

Let’s begin with what it is NOT. It is not something that only philosophers do; in fact, it is not something that only ‘well-educated’ folks do (if they do it at all). It is not the same as ‘being critical’ of something (being critical of an author, a child, a friend, a play, etc.). It’s not something professional ‘critics’ do (although there are elements that are present in both ‘being critical’ and in ‘thinking critically’). I do have a sense that with discipline and the ‘right’ practice most of us can develop our capacity for critical thinking.

Consider, gentle reader, critical thinking happens when we engage four steps:
Discerning and Naming Assumptions. We all hold a variety of assumptions. Some are easy to discern and name (‘I assume that if I travel this route I will reach my destination’); some are discernable with a bit of effort (‘I assume that if I follow my physician’s counsel that I will feel better.’) and some assumptions are deep tacit assumptions – we hold these to be ‘truth’ and we believe they are rooted in ‘reality’ (‘I assume that people are inherently trustworthy’). The most difficult assumptions to discern and name (and own) are the deep tacit assumptions I hold (for they are ‘truth’ for me and who wants his or her truth challenged). The first step in thinking critically is to discern and name our assumptions – particularly our deep tacit assumptions. As I think about it, most of the actions I take are rooted in the assumptions I hold to be ‘true’ (this, of course, is also an assumption I hold to be true). Anyone who has attempted to discern and name his or her deep tacit assumptions knows how difficult it is to do so.

Checking Our Assumptions. Once I discern and name the assumptions that inform my thinking, my perceptions, and that guide my choices and actions the next step is that I will take some time to check whether these are as ‘true’ as I believe them to be. Are my assumptions valid and are they reliable; do they inform my thinking and my choices and my actions – are they ‘good guides’ for me? Are my assumptions ‘situational’ and yet I apply them generally? It is crucial, it seems to me, that we identify and assess the ‘convincing evidence’ for our assumptions (what validates them for me). Sometimes the evidence is based in my experience (when I do ‘A’ this has happened again and again and so, based upon my experience, I believe that if I do ‘A’ then this will happen again). Sometimes the evidence is based upon an ‘authority’ (a person we trust tells us it is so and so we assume that it is so – the person speaks ‘the truth’ and we trust). At other times the evidence is rooted in disciplined searching and seeking – inquiry and research; we do the searching and seeking, it is not done for us.

So, thus far, we have ‘Discerned and Named’ our assumptions (especially our deep tacit assumptions as in ‘life is a competitive struggle’) and then we have taken the time (sometimes a great deal of time will be required) to check our assumptions. Next time we will explore steps three and four.

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I will conclude my brief exploration of a few Disciplines with two more ‘Spiritual Disciplines.’ As a reminder here are the Disciplines I have been exploring:

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

Fasting. I was raised in two Christian Traditions. My mother was a Roman (Polish) Catholic and my father was an English Presbyterian. As a result, I have received a variety of blessings; one of them being two different types of guilt. I was introduced to ‘fasting’ when I reached ‘the age of reason’ – which, according to my mother, was when I celebrated my sixth birthday (just in time for the season of Lent). It was not until I spent my eighteenth year in a monastery that I learned that fasting had little to do with deprivation. Fasting, I learned, was a discipline that nurtured the body, the heart and the spirit. I continue to fast (I have also, because of my mother, reframed ‘Lent’ – but that is another story). I met my first Muslim in 1995; she was part of ‘FAS’ an organization that served at risk children and adolescents in the Baltimore area. She taught me about Ramadan including the thirty day fast. She taught me that there are two essential elements to this fast. They are:

You must have the intention to fast before fajr (dawn) every night during the month of Ramadan. The intention does not need to be spoken, because in reality it is an act of the heart, which does not involve the tongue. It will be fulfilled by one’s intention from the heart to fast out of obedience to Allaah.

Abstaining from Acts that nullify the Fast
The second essential element for your fast to be accepted is that you abstain from the acts that nullify the fast from dawn to sunset. There are certain acts that if one ‘chooses’ to do them then the fast will be nullified. For non-Muslims, the most common is to choose NOT TO EAT OR DRINK from dawn till dusk. If one maintains these two essential elements during fasting, then their fast will be valid and accepted.

For me, there are two types of fasts. The first is modeled on the Muslim Fast of Ramadan; several times a year I will for seven days follow the two essential elements listed above. Then twice every week (at minimum) I will hold the ‘Intention’ and then consume 200-400 calories (a high protein drink generally) a day. I will also continue to drink water. For me, the most important element is my INTENTION. During my morning meditation I will emerge an intention for the day and I will seek to then be intentional and purpose-full as I consciously hold the intention for the day.

Service. For me, service is focused upon an ‘intention’ which I hold: ‘Do those served affirm that they are cared for and do they grow as persons?’ This discipline requires that I am ‘conscious’ (awake and aware) and that I am intentional and purpose-full. As with all of my disciplines, I seek to be consistent rather than perfect (remember I am blessed with two powerful types of guilt and ‘seeking perfection’ is a tiger’s pit for me).

There is more I could write about each of the ‘Humanistic’ and ‘Spiritual’ Disciplines but this is enough for now. Gentle reader, what are the disciplines that you follow? Why those disciplines?


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With my last posting I concluded my brief exploration of some ‘Humanist’ Disciplines; this morning I will begin to explore some ‘Spiritual’ Disciplines. As a reminder, following are both lists:

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

Theists are rooted in and nurtured by spiritual disciplines. I have yet to discover a theist tradition that is not rooted in these four spiritual disciplines: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service [these are not the only spiritual disciplines; they are the ones that I have found to be common to all of the theist traditions I am familiar with].

Meditation/Solitude. ‘Solitude’ = the state of being alone. Solitude is not the same as ‘isolation’ (which is also defined as ‘the state of being alone’). The solitude I am attempting to describe is a solitude of the heart; it is an inner quality, an ‘attitude,’ that does not depend upon physical isolation in order to be experienced. Solitude, for me, equates to inner peace; isolation, for me, equates to loneliness. Solitude enables me to perceive, understand and embrace the world from a place of inner peace – from a rest-full place. When I feel isolated I am focused on myself – on my own pain, my own loneliness. I am not in a rest-full place; I am in a rest-less place. I am not at ease; I am dis-eased. For me, ‘meditation’ requires ‘solitude.’

When I was eighteen, I spent a year in a monastery and one of the spiritual disciplines I was introduced to was meditation. Meditation is rooted in reflection, not study. It involves listening more than thinking. It involves ‘letting go’ more than either ‘hanging on’ or ‘grabbing for.’ It involves ‘clearing’ and ‘opening’ – we make ‘space’ for and we become ‘open to’. . . The theist makes space for and becomes open to the ‘whispers’ of God; to the guidance of the Spirit of God. For the one who is searching and seeking for a meditative process that will serve him or her there are many excellent resources available and many theist traditions have web sites that can help the searcher and seeker. I have found that it is crucial to find a meditative process that deeply resonates with you; this often requires some searching, seeking and experimenting.

Prayer. In the monastery we prayed five times a day; I still pray four times a day (this is my discipline). Upon opening my eyes in the morning, my first words are words of prayerful thanksgiving. As I close my eyes at night my prayers are prayers of both thanksgiving and requesting of healing energy for those I love. I am in awe of devout Muslims who stop and pray five times a day; not just at ‘any’ times but at five ‘set’ times – now this is discipline. For me, my main purpose of praying is to develop, honor and sustain my relationship with God; as I pray I often image God walking with me in a wooded glen (the form that God takes varies; actually, more often than not, the image God takes emerges as I walk and talk with God). When I am fear-full, or full of dis-ease I quickly move to prayers of ‘begging’ or prayers of ‘deal-making.’ What is important to me as a theist is that I purpose-fully stop, step-back, and take time for prayer each day. For me, there are prayers of thanksgiving, honoring, forgiveness, healing and begging (some call it ‘requesting’ or ‘asking’). If it were not for my year in the monastery I might not have developed a daily meditation or prayer discipline. I am thankful each day for all the gifts that my time in the monastery provided me.

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Beginning with my last posting, I began to briefly explore some ‘Humanist’ and ‘Spiritual’ Disciplines. As a reminder, the short list for each includes:

HUMANIST DISCIPLINES: Reflection, Listening, Advocacy/Inquiry, Dialogue

SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: Meditation/Solitude, Prayer, Fasting, Service

This morning I will continue with the ‘Humanist Disciplines.’

Advocacy/Inquiry. In our culture we tend to stress ‘advocacy’ over ‘inquiry.’ Advocacy = the act of pleading for or supporting a cause or principle. Consider that we also tend to believe that in the act of advocacy that we are rooted in ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ and that more often than we would like to admit we are rooted in emotion [at this point I am not ‘evaluating’ either position; I am just ‘naming’ what I have observed for 45 plus years]. Because of this ‘rooting’ advocates tend not to be interested in what the other has to offer; advocates are not open to the possibility of being influenced by the other(s); advocates do not seek to ‘understand’ the other(s); advocates tend to become defensive and entrenched rather than open and inquisitive. Advocates tend to see ‘persuasion’ as the key skill (and too often are seduced into employing ‘coercion’ or ‘manipulation’ when ‘persuasion’ does not seem to work for them). The art of persuasion is rooted in ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ and when an advocate is rooted mainly in ‘emotion’ then persuasion is replaced (what it is replaced with, in addition to coercion or manipulation, ranges from ‘demand’ to ‘you must’).

Consider that if one balances ‘advocacy’ with ‘inquiry’ then one is more likely to avoid the ‘emotional’ traps that come with being an advocate. Inquiry = a seeking for truth, information or knowledge via questions in order to ‘fully,’ ‘deeply,’ ‘truly’ understand. Inquiry requires the other(s) to affirm that I ‘fully,’ ‘deeply,’ ‘truly’ understand; it is not an affirmation if I (the one doing the inquiring) say ‘Oh, now I understand,’ the other(s) need to affirm that I understand. Inquiry also means that I hold an attitude that I might be influenced by your truth, by the information or by the knowledge gained; holding this ‘attitude’ is crucial for the inquiry process.

Dialogue. Consider that a dialogue is a ‘searching conversation.’ We search together for ‘truth’ or ‘meaning’ or ‘understanding’ or ‘options’ or ‘ways’ or ‘possibilities’ or ‘common ground’ (there are others that we might search for but this provides us with some possibilities). Dialogue is rooted in inquiry more than advocacy. It is also rooted in the belief that we each have ‘wisdom,’ or ‘insight,’ or ‘knowledge’ to offer. It is rooted more in ‘doubt’ than ‘surety’ (‘surety’ is a major block to inquiry and dialogue for if I am ‘sure’ I have no need to search with you). Dialogue is not conflict free. At times during the dialogue process conflicts of ‘needs’ or ‘values’ will surface (for an introduction to Dialogue please read and study David Bohm’s ‘On Dialogue’). I conclude today’s posting with a quotation from David Bohm.

A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue.

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