In preschool at Goddard, Jaialai once mentioned that he watched the cartoon My Little Pony. Some of the boys in his class tried to make fun of him for watching a “girl” show. He wouldn’t have it. He told them the show has cool male ponies that fought and did cool things. Soon, all the boys in his class were watching My Little Pony. That’s my Jaialai: he doesn’t allow the opinions of others to dissuade him from something he likes.
Have you noticed that those who are constantly worried about what others think of them are often the most insecured people? There are approximately 7.5 billion people on Earth; there is bound to be AT LEAST one person who doesn’t like you or think poorly of you. Get over it.
Never suffer fools, nor worry about the opinion of fools. Life is too short and there are too many people in the world with very diverse tastes. To each his own. Let them enjoy what they want (so long as they’re not hurting anyone): you just worry about being the best you. If someone brings value to your life (e.g., with a smile, a kind word, company, etc.), then invest in that friendship. If a person adds nothing to your life (or worse, is always negative, critical, or always in want of something from you), ditch them. Life is too short to waste on people who only want to bring you down or take advantage of you.
Look for good people who contribute to the world. Surround yourself with such people.
Critical thinking is for naught if you are unable to give voice to your inner thoughts. But, beware, you communicate something about yourself by everythingyou do: your words, your writings, your actions, and your attire. Here, let’s talk about written communication; I fear it may be a dying art in this age of Twitter, texts, and emoticons.
You cannot afford to allow your writing skills to be under-developed or weak. Good writing is critical to academic and professional success. In my days, I always gave a writing test to narrow down the number of job applicants I would interview. From the hundreds of applications, I chose the top 10 and tested their writing skills. Based on the results of their writing test, I would interview the top 3 and offer the job to one. Writing is that important.
In school, teachers often use your written responses to gauge (1) how much you understand the course material, (2) your ability to analyze and synthesize what you learned, and (3) your ability to effectively communicate your thoughts. Thus, your writing is the vehicle through which your teacher gauges your comprehension and analysis. If you cannot write well, that may obscure how well you understood or analyzed class material.
The good news is that writing is a skill. You can master it with time and effort. Practice the art. Keep at it. You’ll get better with practice.
Read books like Strunk and White’s The Element of Style, and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. In fact, read voraciously. Good writers are also voracious readers. You can no more be a great chef without tasting fine food than be a great writer without sampling the fine writings of the masters.
Most of us are not what we could be. We are less. We have great capacity. But most of it is dormant; most is undeveloped. Improvement in thinking is like improvement in basketball, in ballet, or in playing the saxophone. It is unlikely to take place in the absence of a conscious commitment to learn. As long as we take our thinking for granted, we don’t do the work required for improvement.
Development in thinking requires a gradual process requiring plateaus of learning and just plain hard work. It is not possible to become an excellent thinker simply because one wills it. Changing one’s habits of thought is a long-range project, happening over years, not weeks or months. The essential traits of a critical thinker require an extended period of development.
How, then, can we develop as critical thinkers? How can we help ourselves and our students to practice better thinking in everyday life?
First, we must understand that there are stages required for development as a critical thinker:
Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker (we are unaware of significant problems in our thinking) Stage Two: The Challenged Thinker (we become aware of problems in our thinking) Stage Three: The Beginning Thinker (we try to improve but without regular practice) Stage Four: The Practicing Thinker (we recognize the necessity of regular practice) Stage Five: The Advanced Thinker (we advance in accordance with our practice) Stage Six: The Master Thinker (skilled & insightful thinking become second nature to us)
We develop through these stages if we:
1) accept the fact that there are serious problems in our thinking (accepting the challenge to our thinking) and 2) begin regular practice.
In this article, we will explain 9 strategies that any motivated person can use to develop as a thinker. As we explain the strategy, we will describe it as if we were talking directly to such a person. Further details to our descriptions may need to be added for those who know little about critical thinking. Here are the 9:
1. Use “Wasted” Time. 2. A Problem A Day. 3. Internalize Intellectual Standards. 4. Keep An Intellectual Journal. 5. Reshape Your Character. 6. Deal with Your Ego. 7. Redefine the Way You See Things. 8. Get in touch with your emotions. 9. Analyze group influences on your life.
If writing is clear thinking put to paper, then we must work on your ability to think clearly and critically. As with most things in life, critical thinking is a skill … something that you can learn and over which you can gain expertise.
Shosh, you may not remember, but when you were a three or four, you scared my staff (Ms. T and Mr. D) because of how smart you were. When they asked you questions, you’d answer clearly and methodically. You’d scare them with statements like, “There are five reasons why I like …. First, …. Second, …. Third, ….”
That’s critical thinking. It is clear, rational, and driven by evidence.
I hope you boys have continued to practice what I have taught and modeled. Be skeptical. Question assumptions and conventional wisdom. Based on what evidence does someone make an assertion? What was omitted in the analysis? Who said what? Why would he/she say it? What does he/she have to gain?
Be brutally honest in your analysis. You may have to soften the analysis when you deliver it to others, but be objective and clear minded when you do the analysis. When it comes to the delivery of the message, think critically about how best to deliver it to maximize the objective.
Good writing and critical thinking are not accidental. Practice. You, and others, will find value in those skills for the rest of your life.
Live well. As Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
Writing is talking to someone else on paper. Anyone who can think clearly can write clearly, about any subject at all.
On Writing Well, William Zinsser (2001).
My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:
“Time and tide wait for no man.” Chaucer. If only time were more kind and not so cruel, he would have made every day with you last an eternity, and every day without you a mere second. Unfortunately, time flies regardless of your presence and I can but helplessly count the moments I’ve missed.
Live well, my sons. Live a life for which you’d be proud to recount in your old age.
Keep a journal if you’ve not been doing so. It memorializes the moments I’ve missed, but also helps you write better. In addition, writing is therapeutic. It is for me.
Writing is also critical to your future success. Good writers excel in school and in life. I used to require a writing test to narrow down the list of candidates I choose to interview. Regardless of the strength of their resumes, if an applicant wrote poorly, I wouldn’t bother to even interview him or her.
Just write. At first, don’t worry whether you are writing well. The trick is to edit and rewrite. As John Irving once said, “More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting.” So, don’t give yourself excuses for not writing by trying to find the best ways to express yourself. Just write. Then, edit and rewrite until what you wrote expresses exactly what you wish.
The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children’s writing, said: “When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
“But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen “tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity”.
It’s summer time. Remember our last summer together when we visited as many waterways as we could? We caught fish and crawdads at Scotts Mills, remember? The water was cold, wasn’t it? But, it was so much fun! Even Little V waded into the water.
That’s what summers are for … exploration, trials, and growth. Reduce your screen time, boys. Remember, spend no more than 2 hours of screen time TOTAL! That includes television as well as video games, computer, etc.
Why? It’s simple: your brain needs down time to process information about the world around you, about you, etc. Years ago, during a psychological experiment, researchers examined the brain activities of people under MRI as they were told to focus on certain stimuli. However, during the brief period in between the experiments, when there was a lull, the entire brain lit up. That was unexpected. What where learning now is that there might be organized into two separate systems: one system (extrinsic) that operates when we’re actively focusing on a task, and an intrinsic or default system that operates when we are at rest. Scientists now believe it is when our brain is at rest (during down time, when our mind wander) that the brain works on the self, on defining who we are, etc.
Dr Josipovic’s research is part of a larger effort better to understand what scientists have dubbed the default network in the brain.
He says the brain appears to be organised into two networks: the extrinsic network and the intrinsic, or default, network.
The extrinsic portion of the brain becomes active when individuals are focused on external tasks, like playing sports or pouring a cup of coffee.
The default network churns when people reflect on matters that involve themselves and their emotions.
But the networks are rarely fully active at the same time. And like a seesaw, when one rises, the other one dips down.
This neural set-up allows individuals to concentrate more easily on one task at any given time, without being consumed by distractions like daydreaming.
“What we’re trying to do is basically track the changes in the networks in the brain as the person shifts between these modes of attention,” Dr Josipovic says.
Dr Josipovic has found that some Buddhist monks and other experienced meditators have the ability to keep both neural networks active at the same time during meditation – that is to say, they have found a way to lift both sides of the seesaw simultaneously.
And Dr Josipovic believes this ability to churn both the internal and external networks in the brain concurrently may lead the monks to experience a harmonious feeling of oneness with their environment.
Scientists previously believed the self-reflective, default network in the brain was simply one that was active when a person had no task on which to focus their attention.
But researchers have found in the past decade that this section of the brain swells with activity when the subject thinks about the self.
The default network came to light in 2001 when Dr Marcus Raichle, a neurologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in the US state of Missouri, began scanning the brains of individuals who were not given tasks to perform.
The patients quickly became bored, and Dr Raichle noticed a second network, that had previously gone unnoticed, danced with activity. But the researcher was unclear why this activity was occurring.
Other scientists were quick to suggest that Dr Raichle’s subjects could have actually been thinking about themselves.
Soon other neuroscientists, who conducted studies using movies to stimulate the brain, found that when there was a lull of activity in a film, the default network began to flash – signalling that research subjects may have begun to think about themselves out of boredom.
But Dr Raichle says the default network is important for more than just thinking about what one had for dinner last night.
“Researchers have wrestled with this idea of how we know we are who we are. The default mode network says something about how that might have come to be,” he says.
Be bored, boys. Let your mind wander and your imagination roam. Don’t buy into the false gods and false promises of electronics. The answers to life’s major questions do not lie there. They lie out in the world. Go explore. Live. Use your imagination.
I sit here and wonder where you are, what you are doing, whether you are having a good or bad day. It’s hard. I wish it weren’t so. But, in life, we play the cards we are dealt. Control is only an illusion. As the saying goes, “Man plans. God laughs.”
Plan anyway. Plan for your future. Work hard to achieve it. Success is 95 percent sweat. You must work hard to prepare yourself and be ready whenever opportunities for success present themselves.
Focus on schooling and on getting into the best colleges you can. Better colleges create better first opportunities for you. In other words, you can still be successful if you do not attend a top-ranked college, but your road to success would be made more difficult. Others are more likely to invest in your future if the likes of Harvard, Stanford, Duke, etc., have already vetted you and found you desirable. Success breeds success, my sons.
Look at your cousins. Which ones have a brighter future? Those who studied hard and have achieved a good college education, or those without? Your cousins on your mother’s side are roofers, paintbrush makers, fast food workers, etc., while your cousins on my side are engineers, designers, executives, etc. Success rarely comes by accident.
Aim for success. Keep your eyes on that prize, and work towards it.
I apologize for the long absence. It has been busy and I have been exhausted by day’s end. Even though I have neither strength nor mental clarity to write you, my thoughts do not stray far from you. There is a place in my heart where only you can reside. It will never be filled by anyone else.
The days may be long and exhausting, but I am at least slightly happier because I have supportive friends. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of friendship, my sons. Good friends are the spices that add flavor to your life, the winds that lift you to dizzying heights and the safety lines that catches you should you fall, and the mirrors that truthfully reflect back how you are presenting yourself to the world. They will be there with you through thick and thin.
But, beware false friends. They may tell you what you want to hear, but their hearts do not belong to you. They may be fair weather friends, who will only be there with you during the good times to share a laugh. That’s fine, but know that is their true aim and purpose. Don’t be disappointed when they abandon you during difficult times. These are not true friends, but are more like acquaintances.
I find it best to find and surround myself with good people and true friends who inspire me to be better. Such are often hard to find, but they are worth their weight in gold. Treat them with kindness and respect, and care and feeding. Cultivate those friendship and protect them as you would treasure — for that is what they are.
Good and supportive friends bring you as much health and happiness as you do them. On the other hand, bad people are never worthy of the label friends. Stay away from them. They are not the harbinger of joy and good health, but of their opposites. For example, a recent headline states:
Guilty Verdict for Young Woman Who Urged Friend to Kill Himself.
This is a misuse of the much coveted label of friendship. That woman was never a friend. She was anything but a friend. Beware of the likes of her.