Thinking is our natural activity. Je pense donc je suis in French I think, therefore I am in English is a famous sentence of Descartes to emphasize the importance of thinking. The more important thing is not "what to think" but "how to think". Therefore, we mention about "critical thinking" - a mode of thinking about any subject or problem - in which we improve the quality of our thinking by skillfully making structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them. According to Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, "Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action" (presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987). Critical thinking employs not only logicalness but broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, completeness and fairness. There are many benefits of critical thinking ranging from academic education and scientific fields to working place and personal life. Unfortunately but obviously, much of our thinking is biased, distorted, partial, egocentric or uninformed, which are barriers to critical thinking.
Standards of critical thinking
At first, we discuss about standards of critical thinking.
Clarity is the first part of critical thinking. By making the saying understandable, the meaning can be grasped but due to laziness, careless or a lack of skill, we sometimes fail to express our argument clearly. As a result, other people can not understand and even misunderstand what we mean.
Precision and accuracy are also very important things to critical thinking. A critical thinker should be free from errors or distortions, verify information whether it is true or not and cut through the confusions and uncertainties.
To think logically is to draw well-founded conclusion from our belief and knowledge. Logical thinking is also reasonably linking our ideas, arguments together, the latter must be related with the former. When the combined thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the conclusion is logical.
Relevance should be accompanied with logical thinking to make connection and relationship between ideas.
Consistency is essential to critical thinking for fully awareness that the words have not to conflict with the deeds.
Fairness requires critical thinkers to justifiably evaluate and analyze a problem, or an argument for both sides, to sympathetically represent the viewpoints of others and to have open-minded acceptance of change and reform.
Completeness is a combination of depth and breadth. Thinking is better when it is deep rather than shallow, thorough rather than superficial. In sum, each factor has specific and important role to critical thinking and the combination of those factors brings critical thinkers much more benefits than normal thinkers.
Benefits of critical thinking
Critical thinking offers benefits to people in every field, ranging from academic education and scientific fields to working place and personal life.
For academic education, critical thinking creates improvements in teaching, learning and research. It is possible that many students will be more efficient at using their intelligence and defense own viewpoints thank to becoming more critical in their thinking What critical thinkers hope for is to be free from the tyranny of self-deception and wishful thinking. And then they can think clearly and accurately so that we might judge fairly what we ought to believe and do.
Self-confidence and a sense of control over one's life are the two main personal benefits of being a critical thinker. Once one commits oneself to a lifelong search for the most reasonable beliefs and actions, and one learns how to conduct that search properly, self-confidence and self-respect begin to flourish. Also, the better people evaluate and construct arguments, the more likely people will be in control of situations where decisions need to be made or problems to be solved.
Many of the high-income jobs require critical thinking skills, such as generating effective ideas and making important decisions. Job interviewers often ask applicants to test their ability to think critically. Critical thinking skills may also be a determined factor when an employee seeks a promotion. Critical thinkers consider all options and situations before they act. They know how to control limited time and consider the fastest method of achieving a target. Critical thinkers embody the phrase "work smarter, not harder".
Barriers to critical thinking
Critical thinking is very beneficial, vice versa not many people can think critically, which is explained by barriers to critical thinking.
Egocentric thinking is viewing everything in relation to oneself. They are self-centered and consider only their interests, which impedes critical thinking.
Biased experiences are a relative of egocentric thinking. Although experience is a wonderful teacher, if it is filtered through a biased or distorted view, that is how it is remembered. Experience can make one become an expert in many areas but also cause that one to become outdated, obsolete before the change of time. Experience prevents us from thinking critically over time.
Another barrier to critical thinking is self-serving bias. It means that people often believe that good things happen to us because of internal factors and bad things happen to us because of external factors, while the reverse is true with others. This bias causes us to pigeonhole the actions of others, especially bad behaviors, as strictly the faults of the individuals and not circumstances.
Generalizing from too few observations is also a critical thinking failure. A common example is in consumer marketing where a small group of people in a focus group determines the direction of multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, even though the opinions of those people can not be projected onto a larger population.
Schedule pressures can be an enemy of critical thinking. These pressures can lead to mistakes and poor decision making; undue stress and procrastination (not to know where to start) and then a vicious circle begins.
Group thinking is a danger to critical thinking. There is an old but worthwhile statement: "When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks very much". Some beliefs can hinder critical thinking. If you believe you will fail at trying to solve a problem, you probably will not try. If you do not try, you will not avail yourself of the opportunity to learn and develop your talents, including your critical thinking talents.
Applying critical thinking
Now I work as a public official for People's Committee of Tan Phu district in Ho Chi Minh city. Like many other state agencies (local government), my office is considered bureaucratic and slow to adapt the changes. Almost public officials are rather older so they are insensitive, inactive, and partial and their experience dominates their thinking. Hence, critical thinking is so strange and difficult for them to accept or do. On the other hand, state agencies' activities and decisions are required to be accurate, transparent, streamlined and consistent. So it is very essential for public officials to think critically.
My main task is an assistant of vice chairman of People's Committee of Tan Phu district. I am responsible of helping him to handle documents, preparing for meetings, counseling for his decision, publishing his direction, collecting and summarizing information that he needs, examining documents submitted by departments, etcâ€¦ My work demands for critical thinking, such as clarity, accuracy, precision and logicalness. Fortunately, I exercised to think critically by doing researches and thesis and studying in groups when I was in university. Thank to that, I now effectively apply critical thinking in my work and help my colleagues to understand the importance and benefits of critical thinking.
First, I usually consider for publishing my leader's directions to related departments in such a clear and precise way so that they can understand and fulfill their duties.
Second, my works also require skill of accurate and consistent evaluation. Every day, I receive a plenty of information from many departments and I have check and verify all information and then report and consult to my leader to make right decisions.
Third, I spend more time to study laws and legal documents and to update information of social - economic events, which helps me to practice skills of analyzing and evaluating. Moreover, my consultation is more relevant and realistic.
Forth, critical thinking helps me to control and manage my limited time for many duties, such as working, learning and relaxing. So I am not drawn into piles of work.
In contemporary usage "critical" has the connotation of expressing disapproval, which is not always true of critical thinking. Critical thinking is very important to many fields and it helps people to think actively, consistently, accurately, logically and completely. But there are too much barriers for people to think critically; almost of them are subjective and unavoidable. To me, critical thinking is very effective for my work and I try to be a good critical thinker every day.