Think critically; be compassionate

Think...... This post is my own response to the challenge I posed to several bloggers: What if you could only write one more post? What would you want to say? For more information on the thought experiment or to read other people’s theoretical “last posts,” check out If you could only write one more post.

What would I say if this was the last post I’d ever write? Unlike Bob, who was the first person to take on this challenge, I’m not going to tackle it as a question of mortality (if for no other reason than the fact that I couldn’t come close to being as eloquent and moving as he was). But I will try to take it on as a question of legacy – what would I want people to take away from having known or encountered me? An “advice to future grads” for the broader audience.

In short, I’d implore you to think critically and be compassionate. I think there’s a tendency to see these almost as contradictory ideas but I don’t mean them to be.  Quite the contrary, actually. I see these things as two sides of the same coin.

First, think critically

In my younger days I tried and failed to start a  non-profit / think tank dedicated to promoting a responsible approach to journalism. I adopted “think critically” as the slogan for the organization. Critical thinking isn’t intended to carry a negative connotation, it simply means to ask the extra question. Dig a little deeper. Take the time to put things in context. Consider the source.

All the stuff they teach you in j-skool but that far too often falls by the wayside when working journalists are confronted with deadline pressures, reluctant sources and scarce resources.

Even though I’ve abandoned the project I’ve tried to keep the credo. I think far too often people accept what they’re told without asking the extra question. Critical thinking can be uncomfortable, especially when it involves challenging one’s own preconceived ideals or understandings of the world.

But it’s so very important, especially in the era of unfiltered information overload.

We are bombarded with data, information and opinions. In the face of such an onslaught, we seek out that which reassures us. The multitude of sources only compounds this by implying a variety of viewpoints that may not actually exist.

It’s easy to find 15 sources to support what you believe; it’s harder to seek out the other 15 that challenge you.

Think critically about what you read. Think critically about what you hear. Seek out alternative and dissenting viewpoints. Expose yourself to opinions you don’t share and try to see things the way others do.  Question your beliefs from time to time – if they’re worthwhile you’ll come back to them and you’ll be richer for having challenged them.

Which brings us to the second point.

Then, be compassionate

If it’s important to think critically about issues, ideas and information, it’s just as important to apply these principles to people. Try to understand people. Try to see things as they might. Examine their motivations.

Then remind yourself that they are people, just like you.

War and genocide and terrible things like that depend on the dehumanizing of the enemy. Less dramatically, it’s easier to rail against “them neo-cons” or “the socialists” than it would be to rail against the guy that sits down the hall or the woman you met at yoga.

People are flawed. All of them. But they’re people. Their opinions and beliefs are based on their experiences, just like yours. That might frustrate you, that might confound you and that might even offend you. But try to understand why they are the way they are before you pass judgement.

You don’t have to like them. You don’t even have to respect them. But try to understand them. And remember that there but for the grace of whatever deity you believe in or life choices you’ve made…

In conclusion

Think. Challenge yourself. Make yourself uncomfortable every once in awhile. Walk the proverbial mile in someone else’s kicks. You’ll be better for it.

Creative Commons License photo credit: rogilde – roberto la forgia


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