Sometimes, one question can change your life forever.
Years ago, when I was still in graduate school, working on my degrees in philosophy and religion, one of my mentors challenged me with a question that still haunts me to this day: “Peter, are you really seeking truth, or merely what makes you comfortable?”
Contemplating this question over the years has made me a better thinker, as it forces me to examine my own motives for accepting or rejecting any idea, argument, or worldview, in any arena—philosophy, religion, or politics. Are my beliefs based merely on my preferences, or are they based on good reasons and evidence?
And since this question has had such a significant impact on me, I offer it to all of my students, in all of my classes, on the first day of class, as I encourage them to think more carefully and deeply about life’s most important questions:
“If we want to hold on to beliefs just because they make us feel comfortable, then we will have no problem finding those beliefs. They’re all over the place. But if we are looking for what is real, if we are looking for what is true regarding life’s most important questions, then we will have to work at it, as the answers don’t always come quickly.”
I also tell them that no one, not even their teachers, know all the answers to every single question, so we’re on this journey together.
With that foundation set in place, we then spend the rest of the semester practicing the critical thinking skills we need to be better equipped to discover truth, in all areas of life.
But the one skill I repeatedly bring to the students’ attention throughout the semester can be summed up in two words: SLOW DOWN. Not only is “slow down” (arguably) the most important skill for critical thinking, it is one that I have to continually remind my students—and myself—to do!
Here’s why. Though the human mind is capable of amazing, imaginative, and complex tasks, all too often our thinking is “too fast.” Fast thinking is impulsive, chaotic, and typically controlled by our emotions. And when we are controlled by our emotions, we have a much greater chance of making more mistakes in our thinking, of gaining false beliefs, and of bringing more pain and regret into our lives. Over the years, how many times have we lamented, “What was I thinking?” (i.e. “Why didn’t I think that through?”).
Thus, we constantly need to be reminded to deliberately slow down, and take the time to reason through our questions, our decisions, and the issues we are wrestling with. We need to consistently ask ourselves:
Why do I believe what I believe? Are there any good reasons to think that my beliefs are true? How good is the evidence? And will I follow the evidence where ever it leads me, even if it means choosing truth over comfort? Unless, of course, comfort is more important to us than truth.
But that’s another story.
Peter Kanetis is one of the college’s adjunct instructors of Philosophy. If you’d like to contact Peter, please contact the CTL and we will forward your message to Peter. Be sure to reference the post in your message.