Letter: People should think more critically

From: Dan Fleming


I try to avoid them, but I have to admit that I fell for one of those biased political statements on Facebook. You may know the kind. An opinionated statement is posted, believed by the author to be God’s own truth. Then come the responses in “comments.” They usually fall along the lines of either “You tell ‘em brother/sister” or “It’s thinking like that is what’s wrong with this country.” I guess I followed along because I recognized the name of a friend as the composer of the original post.

What really caught my attention was that at least two of the commenters ended their statements with, “If you don’t agree, just scroll on down.” They were un-inviting opposing views. Worse than that, they assumed the readers who disagreed would cower and be silent. Too often they would be correct. The thought made me remember that famous quote by Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I don’t want to do nothing, but I know weighing in on an argument on Facebook is usually fruitless. Let me be clear, I do not believe at all that folks that share their opinions on Facebook are promoting evil, whether I agree with them or not. My concern is the seemingly growing number who “do nothing” by avoiding their due diligence as a citizen in a democratic society.

Partisanship is a disease that has spread to epidemic proportions with no cure in site. It is good to know one’s own values and priorities. However, when values and priorities completely inhibit empathy and critical thinking America becomes a little less great.

As students we learn the meaning of empathy; “The vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” This takes effort. When empathy is practiced, behavior is greatly improved. Perhaps this is the reason versions of empathy are stressed with the very young.

Critical thinking is something else: “The mental process of reviewing clear, rational thoughts based on evidence to reach an answer or conclusion.” Critical thinking takes courage. To be a critical thinker, one must abandon the opinions of others, who may even be respected friends and relatives. Things change over time, and the basis for others’ opinions may no longer be true. Critical thinking requires work. It takes a bit of reading and research. It also takes the seeking out of truly balanced information. For instance, listening, reading or watching news stories that leave you in total agreement, honest critical thinking is probably not taking place.

It is my dream that America would be a place where Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, independents and others would look critically at their own affiliated groups as well as the opposition. It would be a place where citizens would make truly informed comments to others and truly informed decisions in the voting booth. It would be a place where issues were scrutinized and ideals were not defined as “them or us.”