Critical Thinking And Sustainability For A Brighter Future

Show Notes

information and critical thinking

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Today I wanted to talk about a topic that can help you in every aspect of your life—critical thinking.

You’ve heard guests on the show and me talking about critical thinking and why it is essential for the work that we are doing to grow as a sustainable movement. I want to explain more about critical thinking, why it’s important, how it relates to sustainability, and the steps you can take to start thinking more critically today.

We take in information every time we get on social media, watch tv, read a book, listen to a podcast, talk to a friend – the list goes on. With this influx of information and influence everywhere, we need to think critically if we want to adapt to world changes successfully as a society.

a grain of salt

Any information we consume needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

If you don’t know what “taken with a grain of salt means,” I’ll give you my preferred definition of the idiom.

It is “to understand that something is not completely true or right, to not take something too seriously, and to accept but with some reservations or skepticism.”

One of the keywords here is completely. Many pieces of information won’t be completely correct or accurate or applicable to every person on earth.

The other keyword is skepticism. Skepticism doesn’t have to be a bad word. We can have a healthy skepticism. This is when we don’t doubt others just for the sake of arguing or proving someone wrong, but to help us discover some form of the truth that will help us arrive at logical decisions so we can take action.

Everyone can grow and benefit from new information.

It may expand our worldview, confirm what we know to be true, or help us lead us on a new path of learning.

critical thinking

So, what happens when you take information a step further than understanding and reserved acceptance. You move into critical thinking.

Critical thinking is when we receive information and then pair our skills of analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating that information with the right attitude and intention, allowing us to make a judgment and take action.

It teaches us how to think instead of what to think.

Skills

When we analyze, we break the information down into smaller parts that we can understand. When we synthesize, we take multiple pieces of information, research, and ideas and see how they connect and differ. We bring different parts all together for a complete understanding. And when we evaluate, we make judgments and form opinions about what we just put together.

But as I mentioned, critical thinking also has to be paired with the right attitude.

Attitude

Research by Facione shows to make sound judgments about the information we take in, we have to be in a solid disposition. The seven dispositions are: truth-seeking, open-mindedness, analyticity, systematicity, self-confidence, inquisitiveness, and maturity of judgment.

  1. Truth-seeking: Seeking the best information that is true regardless of whether it supports our ideals, beliefs or not.
  2. Open-mindedness: Tolerance of views that might not be like our own
  3. Analyticity: Using reason and evidence to solve problems, as well as being able to identify holes in an argument or viewpoint.
  4. Systematicity: Making sure the information is processed in an organized and focused way.
  5. Self Confidence: Trusting your reason and skills as a competent learner and thinker.
  6. Inquisitiveness: Being eager to learn about new things even if it doesn’t immediately present a benefit to you.
  7. Maturity of Judgement: Being cautious about giving judgment with an awareness that multiple solutions could be the answer and appreciating the fact that we may need to reach a conclusion even if we don’t have complete knowledge at that time.

So essentially, to think critically, you need to be able to take in information bit by bit until you get a more holistic picture of what it true – while being open to ideas that may be different than your own and recognizing your held beliefs and biases.

Self Awareness + Collaboration

That’s right. Critical thinking requires a level of self-awareness so that you can recognize what and where your beliefs stem from, how that affects your actions, and how that might be impacting your judgment on a new piece of information.

Self-awareness comes from inner reflection. It comes by observing your thoughts, beliefs, and actions, practicing mindfulness (my favorite thing), journaling, and even getting trusted friends and family feedback.

We also need collaboration. We are all in unique situations and locations across the globe. So to be able to be exposed to new or different ideas that may challenge our own, we need to collaborate with others. We need to get new perspectives, learn how to work together, and respect each other.

We must have critical thinking in all of life’s situations to help us to have sound judgment. But why is critical thinking necessary for sustainability?

Critical thinking and sustainability

sustainable development goals

We require critical thinking to reach true sustainability socially, environmentally, and economically.

Critical thinking helps us connect the dots between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals we discussed in Episode 54. To see that our health, wellbeing, and education are tied to life on land and water, sustainable development of cities, responsible consumption, production of industries, climate action, and more. It is all pretty complex and interconnected.

But understanding the interconnectedness of all of these moving parts is we need to make up a whole picture, address the problems, make our own judgment, and hopefully decide that we need to take action to live sustainably on this planet. Not only that we need to take action, but spread awareness of sustainability if we want to protect ourselves, others, and all living things on this planet.

Tools for change-makers

Self-awareness, collaboration, and critical thinking are the tools that we hold that allow us to solve our current sustainability problems inclusively and equitably and respond to those that might emerge.

Research by Taimur and Sattar states that “Meaningful progress on the path of sustainable development will require a thoughtful transformation of how we think and act. In order to understand sustainability challenges and to engage With sustainability issues, individuals must become sustainability change-makers. For becoming change-makers, they require the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that empower them to contribute to sustainable development.”

critical thinking for problem solving

Critical thinking will help us to solve problems like:

  • Increasing human well-being and economic activity while decreasing resource use and environmental impact.
  • Creating solutions to the complex problem of deforestation, urbanization, and crowding.
  • Incentivizing reductions to climate change and global warming by all the world’s people and industries through collaboration.
  • Removing toxic chemicals and plastics from our air and water has caused nearly irrevocable damage.
  • And more!

Solving these problems is essential, as well as being able to think about local decisions, business decisions, and personal decisions through the lens of critical thinking. At a glance, a solution may never be a harm to you, but it could be to someone else a neighborhood or world away.

The Rocky Mountain Institute says, “Communities are shaped by decisions made over decades. Though some of these choices are made with full knowledge of possible consequences, those made with insufficient thought and information can leave communities with unfortunate and unanticipated outcomes—some felt immediately, some delayed many years.”

So how do you think critically?

How to start thinking critically

I’ve alluded to some of the ways you can think critically, but in practice, here are a few ways to get started without treating your life like it’s a research paper.

Ask questions and question assumptions

What do you think about a particular subject, and why?
What would someone else have to say about it?
Consider alternatives for your questions and assumptions. Is there another way you could ask that same question that would give it another meaning?

Evaluate the information that is provided to you, and gather more!

Be honest. Did you just head to your phone, read a headline and call it the truth? Dig deeper.
Where did it come from, and who said it?
What other opinions, perspectives, or arguments are out there for this piece of information?

Seek out diversity and collaboration during the thought process

The human mind learns at a very early age. So your brain might be falling into the same shortcuts it always had that were carved by bias. Most of the time, these biases are automatic, unconscious.

Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev said, “When your mind is full of assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs, it has no penetration, it just repeats past impressions.”

You can help uncover your biases and begin to make new impressions by collaborating with people different from you. By communicating with others, we can start to think critically. This also means trying to diversify your sources. If you’re always on one platform, maybe you try forums, real people in your community, or new news outlets.

I’ll be honest no one thinks critically 100% of the time. It does not come naturally to most people. It is something that you have to practice and incorporate into your life to make better decisions.

Something to grow on

On this week’s something to grow on, I challenge you to find a topic or question of interest to you that is related to sustainability and practice critical thinking. Get creative, write your question down and brainstorm, see what others are saying about it, have coffee with friends, and get their thoughts. Heck, maybe you even ask the people next to you what they think about it and start a conversation!

Remember, the important thing is to continue questioning, learning, and growing neighbors.

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