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Wynberg Voices: The Lockdown – A Change in Circumstances Demands a Change in Thinking

Monday 25 May 2020: Wynberg Voices takes great pleasure in presenting Mr Patrick Smith’s article The Lockdown – A Change in Circumstances Demands a Change in Thinking,  first published on LinkedIn on 16 May and as featured in our WBHS Newsletter of 22 May.  Mr Smith is an Educator, 1st XI Cricket Coach, and Sports Co-ordinator at Wynberg Boys’ High School.

Critical thinking could be key in alleviating emotional stress while we wait for the lockdown to be lifted.

Unprecedented. Uncertain. Bizarre. These are all words to describe the times in which we currently live. We are novices in dealing with our current situation and the unpredictability around our collective and individual futures has given rise to a plethora of intense emotions. Anger, frustration and fear abound and the perceived lack of clarity from our government only exacerbates those negative feelings.

Trying to remain optimistic and positive in the face of all that is happening is admirable, but this alone will not improve our state of mind. We need to develop a critical mind to sift the truth from the untruth so that emotions do not cloud our judgement.

Critical thinking is a powerful skill in times like these and practicing it now may smooth out our emotional volatility and assist us in coping with lockdown life.

Critical thinking involves reducing substantial problems or arguments into more manageable components and from there separating fact from fiction. Then we can make valuable and functional conclusions about the subject matter. To achieve this, asking the right questions and challenging our assumptions are key and remaining objective is paramount.

That is easier said than done and several issues may derail your critical thinking mission. Let’s explore some of those so they can be avoided.

Idolising authority

This is difficult considering most of us have no medical or virology background. The vast majority of us also tend to defer to authority in times of crisis. To avoid authority stymieing our critical thinking process, information should be garnered from a wide variety of sources. Assess the sources’ backgrounds and expertise and try to establish what they have to gain from disseminating the information you are taking on board. Often, people promoting a certain point of view have a vested interest in that view gaining traction amongst the general public.

Black and white thinking

Most issues are far more complex than they appear at face value. The pestilence and lockdown are two such concerns. Nothing about them is black and white. There is a prodigious amount of nuance and ambiguity involved so a one-size-fits-all problem-solving approach simply will not work. This is applicable on a global, national and provincial level. Looking to other countries to promote or denigrate our policies is unproductive. What’s good for the goose is, in this case, not at all good for the gander.

Impulsive moral judgements

Having a sound set of values is a good thing. Jumping to conclusions about someone or something based on one’s culturally ingrained beliefs is not. To ensure more critical thought, disregard moral judgement until after objective analysis has been carried out on what is being said and who is saying it.

Generic Labeling

Labeling people is convenient, but can be counterproductive. They’re useful in highlighting the effort people have put it in to get where they are – doctors and other professionals, for example. They are dangerous because we may erroneously bestow credence on people’s credentials or not pay enough attention to others with the “wrong label”.

Labels often divide us into “Us” and “Them” camps. These camps are based on race, socio-economic background, political allegiances and many more polarising issues. People’s opinions, valid and well-constructed or not, are discredited based purely on the label assigned to their particular camp. An ad hominem fallacy such as this often makes it possible to undermine a person’s argument without ever having to critically engage with it. Instead of focusing on the label, examine the evidence and challenge your assumptions.

Inherent biases

We all have belief systems and biases that we have constructed through our own experiences. We’re also reluctant to change those beliefs. Therefore, we will often dismiss a proposal or opinion outright simply because it challenges our views. Similarly, we will cherry-pick articles or information that support our views and use only these sources to reach a conclusion. The ability to change our minds is a prerequisite for critical thinking. It’s imperative not to let emotions and bias set our minds in stone.

Thinking critically is challenging, but also stimulating and invigorating. Currently, we have very little control over the happenings around us and allowing negative emotions to get the better of us will not change that.

Critical thinking skills empower us to objectively explore complex issues, solve the root cause of the problems we may encounter in our lives and make high-quality decisions. In these uncertain, unprecedented times, it’s a game-changer.

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