The Write Life

Critical Thinking versus List-ical Thinking

Image by Todd Diemer,

Given the year we lived through, it’s only natural that everyone wants answers fast. 2016 was a banner year challenges, tragedies, and triumphs for so many people. I’m not referring to the political climate. I’m referring to interpersonal challenges, financial challenges, unemployment (sudden as well as longterm), deaths of loved ones, births, marriages, you name it. And it’s everywhere; in real life, in online communities, at home, at the workplace, in churches, and at schools.

Despite what we’ve seen on TV, few of life’s challenges can be resolved in thirty minutes or an hour. In the movies, the crisis arrives within a few minutes after the title sequence and is conveniently averted or diminished before the closing credits. Real life crises, rarely if ever, are resolved that fast. So why do we expect solutions to those challenges be one-step and one-size fits all?

Unicorns and Magic Spells

There are some who will gladly tell you that the sure-fire cures for whatever ails you can be found in amping up your wanting, finding just the right unicorn, or parroting mantras. Or they’ll give you the sexy hard sell implying that the means to immediate personal and professional success lies in three, five, seven, or thirty well choreographed steps.

Call me Mr. Buzzkill, because I’m here to tell you that —

life does not work that way. 

There is no fast track. There’s no cutting the line. And all such detours pretty much lead you right back to the off-ramp where your ill-fated detour began.

Life is about learning. We all have to do the fricking work.

In order to resolve situations that require input from outside sources you have to invest more than a cursory glance and list-ical thinking. They require close examination and critical thinking. Quick fixes for the most part are not remedies at all. More often than not, quick fixes are fast, inelegant, and momentary stop-gap means of postponing the inevitable.

Recipes and “Do This, Please”

If you’re undertaking a process that requires less than a half a dozen steps to accomplish your desired goal — like baking a cake, updating computer software, or changing a spark plug — sure, simple sequential steps are the way to go, but there are still other factors to take into account for each situation. Try baking a cake with old baking powder or baking soda. The results are nowhere near pretty. Edible? Yes. Appetizing? No. Ever try updating software on a computer that’s too old to run the update? You’re asking for teeth-grinding frustration. And changing a spark plug? Well, I know nothing about changing spark plugs, but I’m sure there’s relevant variables that can make or break the experience.

My point is this: if certain conditions/factors can have negative effects on mundane matters, how much more impact do conditions/factors have on your life? And we’re just talking about you. We haven’t even gotten to interactions with other people who have their own bag of challenges.

The folks who advise you to put your right hand in, you put your right hand out, put your right hand in, and shake it all about might give you more relevant advice about your situation if they knew you were juggling chainsaws.

Seriously. Offering someone counsel without context is like giving someone a band-aid for a gaping flesh wound.

Caveat Emptor

The Latin maxim translates to “let the buyer beware.” For my purposes here, I take it to mean that the onus to know or find the difference between sound advice and ear candy falls squarely on you, the reader.

This is where critical thinking comes into play again. Who is giving you advice? What makes them credible? Do they have firsthand experience on the topic they’re giving you advice on?

As for popularity—
popularity does not equal credibility;
nor does it equate to competency.

(I so wanted to put in a line about lemmings and their group behavior, but as it turns out, the tales of them jumping off cliffs specifically to their demise are a popular misconception. So enough said, but we all know the cautionary tales of following the crowd.)

Yes, your future is influenced heavily by your choices. And the quality of your future is influenced equally as much by your ability to choose wisely.

Knowing and Doing

Knowing how to resolve a situation is one thing, implementing that solution to reach a desired result is quite another. If a ship is on a course to crash into a rocky shore, changing direction involves more than the captain making a one-time turn of the ship’s wheel and rudder to the left or right. Course corrections in your life involve sustained effort and consistent follow-up actions, the same manner in which avoiding a shipwreck involves a series of committed course corrections.

Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who has overcome adversity — maintained their sobriety, lost a large amount of weight, beat cancer, or rebounded from physical abuse — about commitment to their goal. People can’t run marathons because they ran a single 5k. One doesn’t become better at writing by attending a class or reading pithy posits. These particular endeavors demand a commitment to the development of endurance and skill.

Personal growth occurs when we apply both sound reason and wise counsel to sharpen our ability to assess situations and make better decisions than we have in the past.

Love one another.