By U Hla Maung
A “critic” is a person who reviews a situation, book, painting, play (“zat”), film, or whatever, in a thorough and careful way, and as objectively and dispassionately as possible, without bias or prejudice. “Criticism” implies finding faults, but a “critic” is not a person who aims to merely “criticise”. A “critic” is someone who points out both the good points and the bad, and the flaws and merits of whatever is under review.
With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand what is meant by “critical thinking”’ Critical thinking is thinking that is thorough and careful. Note that thinking can be “thorough” only when it is based on a wide or deep knowledge of a subject, and not based on rumour, assumption and speculation. If thinking is based on limited knowledge and experience, it will be flawed because it will not be thorough and will not have considered other more correct and valid conclusions.
It is thinking that is logical and systematic, and without contradictions, so that it can be understood, appreciated and accepted. Such thinking is also possible only if a person is without anger or hatred, and unswayed by personal frustrations.
However, what makes “critical thinking” so difficult is that people everywhere are comfortable with long-held beliefs and assumptions. Many of these beliefs and assumptions have been passed down from parents to children. They become part of cherished traditions, which are often mixtures of truths, half-truths, misperceptions and superstitions. How many of us, for example, think of 13 as an unlucky number, or black as a colour of mourning. And in Myanmar, most parents continue to name their children according to the day of birth. Many of the reasons for our beliefs and traditions are vague and unclear.
And naturally, most of us are biased towards our own country, our own race, our own religion, our own likes and dislikes. We become upset when long-held beliefs are questioned. We defend our “views” and “opinions” vigorously. We are pushed by our fears and our insecurities into making decisions. And while we may be quick to find fault with others, we do not like to admit that we do not know enough, or that we were wrong even after we realize it.
It takes effort to think clearly, honesty to see our own bias and prejudices, and courage to admit our errors and our mistakes. But all this is necessary if we are to learn and grow in maturity and wisdom as we age.
Critical thinking cannot be developed overnight, or learned from books. We must make the effort to be on our guard continuously against jumping to conclusions, against making decisions on limited information, against bias and prejudice, against making decisions because of personal fears and or personal likes, against making decisions guided by hate, fear or anger. We must learn to consider a subject or situation from all possible angles and from others’ points of view, because not all situations can be judged simply as either good or bad. Real life is often complicated, and there may be no clear cut right decisions or solutions . It nevertheless remains essential for all of us to think critically and learn to make decisions for the common good, and sometimes agree to disagree while remaining united and at peace with one another. The decisions we make will impact not only our lives and our families, but also our communities.