Why Think Critically?

Written by Siddhi Latey (Weloquent)

When in school, I would always be afraid of raising my hand when a question was thrown out to the class, lest I embarrassed myself with a wrong answer. And so, even while the correct answer would bubble inside of me waiting to be let out, I would keep silent. This went on until grade 9, when we were welcomed by a new history teacher. One of the first things she said in her introduction was, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers” - a quote by French Enlightenment writer and philosopher, Voltaire. That day not only did I volunteer to answer my first question in class, but also learnt how to “think critically.”

While there are several definitions available, thinking critically is simply thinking about thinking! For instance, if I were to answer a question wrongly, I must critically think about how I came up with the answer, what led me into believing it was correct, where did I go wrong, how can I be more correct next time? This observation and evaluation of warranting something as a fact or a belief comes from rational, sceptical, and unbiased analysis. The process comprises objective evaluation of pre-conceived notions and entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities to overcome subjective biases in thoughts. Now that we understand what critical thinking means, let us evaluate why it is such an honoured skillset and why it needs to be cultivated, especially amidst students:-                

Enhances ability to make informed decisions.
Sources estimate that an average adult human mind makes an astounding 35,000 conscious decisions on a daily basis. In contrast, a child makes 3000 decisions every day. While it is practically impossible to always make the right decision in every aspect of your life, critical thinking helps us separate our feelings from the facts to better make decisions that might have a long-term impact on our lives. This way subjective biases and temporary feelings don’t fog our vision and we avoid future pitfalls. To improve our critical thinking skills, we must define your question while keeping your goal in mind, then gather reliable information and consider the implications of our decisions. Most importantly, we must always explore contrasting points of view. 

Fosters independence.
Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. The entire objective of critical thinking is to cultivate independent thinking, make responsible decisions and grow into great leaders. It promotes freedom of thought and the opportunity to address head-on, the complex problems that are afflicted by the world without external influence. It helps us develop proactive thinking abilities that are refined through learning and experience.         

Promotes creativity.
Creativity is not merely coming up with new ideas, but is a marriage of these ideas with its relevance and application for the problem or the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones, and modifying them if necessary. While working your way around questions and evaluating the best way to address them, critical thinking aids in arriving at constructive outcomes that have considered parallel routes and then consciously choosing one that would best suit the situation. It helps you customise your thought process to come up with revolutionary and increasingly creative ideas! 

Makes you happier.
Self-reflection is an important aspect of critical thinking. The majority of us shy away from self-reflection with the fear of what we might discover about ourselves. However, knowing and understanding yourself is an important aspect that leads to happiness. While the quality of life depends on the quality of your decisions, it is crucial to enhance the quality of your thoughts for a better understanding - one that is free of cognitive biases. Critical thinking helps you gain control of your thoughts so that you are not a slave but rather the master of your decisions. 

Improves relationships.
Healthy relationships more often than not require mutual understanding based on the acceptance of different points of view. Since critical thinking requires the examination of thoughts that are contrasting with your own, it helps you become more open minded and therefore enables a better understanding of the disposition of those you love and care for. 

For instance, if during a fight with a sibling or a friend, the other gets angry, it is important we pause, and think about what probably made them cross in the first place - instead of retaliating with anger. Critically thinking about the situation for a couple of minutes will help you respond appropriately and bridge gaps instead of breaking them.