Our lives are
convoluted roads where we must make important choices at many junctures. We are faced with decisions every day. Some are small and some are big; yet, the
outcome of these daily decisions can have a great impact on us. Because there are many things that are not
concrete or clearly outlined in our world, we must develop powerful tools to
help us navigate on the path of life.
Three core operating tools to help us guide our way are critical
thinking, active reading, and effective writing. To be useful, these mechanisms must become
deeply ingrained in our core being; that is, they must become daily
The first necessary tool for
meandering through life is critical thinking.
For me, critical thinking is a relatively new term. I was not taught how to think critically and
so it does not come naturally to me. I
was raised in a very strict, legalistic Baptist school environment where I was
taught what to think but not how to
think. I learned rules and memorized facts
that I regurgitated for tests. This is
the opposite of what critical thinking entails.
I have learned that critical thinking is an advanced skill that needs to
be deliberately sought after to be acquired.
thinking is looking deeply and inquisitively into a topic or issue, rather than
just randomly accepting or rejecting the subject or argument based on
preconceived notions or beliefs. In my
early life, I was programmed to think that everything is black or white. It was not until I was much older that I
started to see that everything is not concrete and that others may have a
different, logical opinion than I do.
Critical thinking is defined by Lau and Chan (2017) as the ability to
think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe and includes
the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking (Critical Thinking
module, para. 1). This may sound simple
but critical thinking must be earnestly developed.
developed, critical thinking involves a great amount of discipline. I see this firsthand since I am not wired to
process information this way. Hence,
since learning critical thinking, I have realized that it must be applied
consistently, cultivated, and essentially become a way of life. Moreover, the skills must be used daily,
especially in education: “If students
are not expected to use these skills in traditional courses, the skills will
simply atrophy and disappear” (Spring Arbor University SAU, Critical
Thinking: an overview section, p. 168).
There are many
benefits to the use of critical thinking.
Proverbs 14:15 states, “The simple believe anything, but the prudent
give thought to their steps” (New International Version). We simply cannot accept everything that we are
told, that is in print, or that we see on the news. We must carefully examine
the things we encounter in our lives regarding what to believe as to walk
wisely. This scripture reinforces the idea that critical thinking helps us
discerningly maneuver through life.
Another benefit to critical thinking
is the ability to know who we are, what we believe, and why our adopted faith
and convictions are important to us. It
is easy to get caught up in the world’s way of thinking and not conclude things
for ourselves. It is important to be
able to define who we are, so we can face the world with strength and
dignity. Otherwise, we could become
erratic, vacillating, and in conflict with our inner-being. It behooves us to become the mature critical
thinkers that Ephesians 4:14 speaks of, “…we are no longer to be children,
tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…”
(New American Standard)
Yet another benefit, which I have
experienced, is the acquisition of empathy and the avoidance of stereotyping. In the past, I was a judgmental person. Again, this is because of my upbringing where
everyone was taught to act and think alike; thus, creating in me a myopic view
of the world. I was stuck in stage four
of Kohlberg’s ladder of moral development.
“A stage-four person may be weak in compassion, empathy, caring,
understanding, and other virtues that compromise sensitivity toward other
people…even when that person is thoroughly dedicated to God” (SAU, Kohlberg’s
Ladder section, p. 197). In contrast, I have since learned to consider the
thoughts and views of others. This does
not come easily for me. It is something
that needs my attention or I could quickly slide back into my old habits.
My biggest challenge
is my deeply ingrained biases, especially regarding religion and doctrine. It is hard for me to set aside my lifelong
teachings and stop to ponder different perspectives. This takes work but I am
actually happier now. I feel like a
well-rounded individual, and I am released from some of the internal mental and
emotional conflict that had been residing inside of me.
Another obstacle would be the deep
emotions surrounding some of my personal and long-held positions. Some of my beliefs are very sacred to me so
it takes discipline to quell my sensitivity, put my emotions aside, and
carefully ponder the topic from all positions.
I recognized this trait in myself when I took the Myers-Briggs Indicator
assessment, which is a questionnaire that identifies unique traits in
people. Regarding his thoughts on the
Myers-Briggs temperament inventory, Boyle (2001) says:
One of the contrasting temperament pairs is the
Thinker and the Feeler. The Thinker uses
logic and unemotional detachment when making decisions while the Feeler uses
emotions and personal attachment. Some
of us are so extreme in our thinking or feeling selves that we have developed a
severe case of tunnel vision, and we find it literally impossible to understand
where others are coming from in their thought processes. Thinkers typically view situations as black
and white, right and wrong, while Feelers can waver according to the
circumstances (p. 56).
As stated earlier,
critical thinking helps me defend my faith.
In my estimation, this is one of the most important aspects of applying critical
thinking. In the past, I did not know how
to do this; but with time, training, and maturity, I have become able to
provide good Christian apologetics in my encounters with unbelievers and
Further, critical thinking has
helped me function productively at work.
Since I have studied the Myers-Briggs types, I have learned to identify
unique characteristics of my work peers.
This has aided me to better communicate, resolve conflict, solve
problems and execute plans while working cross functionally between departments
and within a team. It has also helped me
with my interpersonal relationships at home and with friends. I now listen with a sympathetic ear, rather
than quickly passing judgment on someone.
reading is a powerful second tool. Active
reading is used to facilitate critical thinking, and so it is an integral part
of the process. It involves identifying
the author’s thesis and evaluating his or her argument instead of assuming that
everything in print is true.
This also takes
work and is the opposite of quickly reading an assignment just to get it done. It means to read with the desire to understand
the text and to assimilate the information.
Levitin (2016) says that we are a
storytelling species and easily swayed by the opinions of others. He further states that there are three ways
to acquire information – we can discover it ourselves, we can absorb it
implicitly, or we can be told it implicitly.
He believes that much of what we know about the world falls in the last
category. We usually believe a
secondhand fact that someone told us or that we read (p. 123, para. 1).
In contrast, active reading does not
just involve interpreting information.
Active reading demands that we analyze the facts. We must ask questions, use our own power of
reasoning, look at the author’s background, compare and contrast other
readings, and become a judge.
will help us become informed, guide our choices, and define our beliefs. We can learn great things from reading books;
thus, it is important that we do not become overly critical and dismiss most of
what we read. A book can be a powerful
learning tool. It takes intentionality
to acquire a balance between using healthy skepticism versus being completely
However, the benefits are worth the
time and effort. Good books have helped
me through many rough times in my life. To
be sure, scripture has helped me the most; nonetheless, even the Bible has its
own controversies. I am thankful and
happy that I have finally learned the benefits of active reading. I can now apply the art of analytical reading
to form my own thoughts, convictions, and worldview.
Without a doubt,
active reading is the most difficult for me.
When it comes to reading, I have a very short attention span. After I read a paragraph, I wonder what it
was that I just read. For this reason, I
have always loathed reading. I have had
to force myself to discover ways to overcome my aversion to reading.
I have found the best remedies are
curiosity, reading aloud, and highlighting.
I must consciously force myself to become inquisitive about a subject
before I even start reading a book.
Becoming inquisitive is the guiding force behind reading. Also, if I am not overly interested in a
subject, I sometimes force myself to read aloud. There is something about hearing what I am
reading that helps me truly listen to and remember the information. Lastly, highlighting interesting and important
facts helps too. Highlighting forces me
to see the facts and string together what the author is trying to convey. Highlighting also makes it easy to go back and
examine important facts again, if necessary.
Active reading is
very important in the workplace. I am
bombarded daily with hundreds of emails.
Because I receive emails from many different authors, I see very different
writing styles and ways of conveying information. Active reading has helped me dissect and
understand the information that comes my way and has helped me to know what
action is needed on my part.
Obviously, active reading is
critical to higher education. When I was
working on obtaining my associate degree, I used to read assignments
quickly. I knew that if the instructor
gave a pop quiz or called on me in class, I could, most likely, come up with
the correct answer. I am now operating
oppositely by analyzing and synthesizing the information assigned, and I am
applying it to my life.
Writing is a form
of communication through the written word.
When we write, we must have something to say. Writing is expressing a point of view on
paper. However, to be effective there
are guidelines to follow and the writer must engage the reader.
most important thing to remember is to have a thesis. A thesis is the writer’s own stance on a
topic. Because it is a personal
viewpoint, the very topic that is being written about should contain
emotion. According to Trimble (2011), a
writer should pick a subject that means something
to them both emotionally and intellectually.
He contends that we are the most effective when our heart is in it (p.
13). This, in turn, creates effective
This makes sense. Without emotion, a
paper could end up dull and boring to the reader. Without a firm conviction of the thesis, the
paper could become difficult to write. This confidence will spill over into the paper
and be picked up on by the reader. If we
are confident, we will indistinctively assert what we know (Trimble, 2011, p.
Another important rule to follow is
to be mindful of the reader. It is imperative
to use etiquette in writing. If the
reader immediately becomes offended, they will shut down and not consider the
idea that is being conveyed. The writer
should consider how his or her words will come across to the reader and be
In turn, the
reader will be able to put themselves in the writer’s shoes, so to speak. Putting ourselves in another person’s
position is an important part of learning in life. It causes us to look outside of the private
bubble we live in and see things from varying perspectives.
Effective writing is also important
because it is how history is recorded and the basic way to research any
topic. Reading benefits our society and
makes us more knowledgeable people.
I find it
challenging to write effectively because it is hard for me to sort through the
massive number of thoughts in my head and write them down in a clear, succinct
It is not hard for me to write in an
authentic or passionate manner, but I find it is most difficult not to write
how I talk. Throughout an entire paper,
I must be mindful not to write in the same fashion that I speak to people.
The last challenge I face is being
too dogmatic and harsh. When I feel
passionate about something, I need to remind myself to watch my tone and
delivery, so I do not lose the respect and interest of the reader.
The most important
application of effective writing in my life is in my workplace. In my position, email is the main mode of
communication. During the course of the
day, I engage in written communication with customers, managers, and
co-workers. It is critical that I convey
messages clearly and concisely; otherwise, costly mistakes could be made.
I have also found effective writing
to be important in my daily life. I have
had to write very important letters to insurance companies and doctors
regarding my son’s health conditions.
There were many times I had to present clear and strong arguments for
expensive prescriptions and surgeries to be approved by our insurance company.
Another application of effective
writing is journaling. Journaling has
greatly helped me throughout difficult times of my life. The act of writing down my thoughts and emotions
on paper has helped me sort through many trials. Journaling has helped me remember all that I
have been through in the past, how far I have come, and where I want to go.
Clearly, the three
mechanisms of critical thinking, active reading, and effective writing are
beneficial instruments that can help us in our life. When habitually applied, they help us make
sound decisions rather than relying on feelings or intuition.
tools help us sift through the massive amounts of information we are inundated
with during this period of time. They
can actually be thought of as an arsenal of weapons to protect us from harm and
deception. It is imperative that we
guard our minds against unreliable news, social media information, and unsound
doctrine. We must learn how to decipher
evidence and learn what truth is. Acquiring
these three skills and training our mind to make them part of our daily life
will safeguard us and help us to lead a life filled with knowledge and
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