Critical Thinking in the Modern Age

Why?

It is one of the first questions we articulate as children, yet we often forget to ask it as adults.

Perhaps we were told too often by our parents to stop asking, and we listened too well. Perhaps we should start asking it more often.

Why do I want this job? Why do I go to church? Why do I love this person? Why do I like going out with my friends? Why do I need this drink? Why?

There are also the bigger questions like why was I born at this time? Why do I feel empty inside?

It seems that we have some kind of gut feeling with regard to each of these scenarios. We know that we like our spouse or our friends. We know that we need a job. We know when we are unhappy, but we have stopped asking, “why?”

As a father of four girls (perhaps I should have asked “Why?” more often as well), I often ask my oldest two—the ones who can actually articulate words—why they do or say certain things. The answer I receive most often is a shrug of the shoulders. My nine year old said something interestingly profound a few days ago. My wife and I were talking politics, or, rather, I was talking politics and my wife was a captive audience, when my oldest said, “who would want that job?”

I asked her why she would say that, and she claimed not to know. I was honestly curious, but she shied away from answering. However, it got me thinking, why WOULD anyone want that job?

Being President of the United States has to be entirely exhausting. Every action and inaction is scrutinized by celebrities, media pundits, and families at the dinner table. The world watches and mocks when you misspeak at a press conference or have a bad round of golf. Simple tasks like going to a restaurant become headlines when you order a cheeseburger after promoting healthy eating. You sign laws and enact budgets that you did not write, and pay the price whenever an industry that you never worked in implodes. Is it no wonder why every president seems to age 20 years during the 4-8 that they are in office?

There are basically two reasons why someone would run for office. They are either altruistic individuals who are willing to give their lives for public service, or they are power hungry control freaks. More often than not, our leaders fall into the latter category.

This election season, we should ask ourselves two questions. Why is this candidate running for the office? And why am I supporting this candidate?

Furthermore, we should begin asking “why” in so many more instances. It is the essence of critical thinking. This three-letter question provides necessary introspection in many cases. In this fast-paced society where time is a limited commodity, we run on instinct. This leads to extremely quick decisions that are often not entirely beneficial to us.

Next time you feel overwhelmed by a choice that could lead to a self-destructive behavior or major life change, ask yourself why?

It is the essence of critical thinking—a skill that is often overlooked. There need not be a complex philosophical Socratic methodology of logic and inquiry.

Just ask, “why?”

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