Thursday, June 06, 2013

Oh Dear, I've Been Thinking...

I've been thinking.

That may sound like an odd phrase. One is always thinking. At the end of yoga class we are invited to lay quietly in "relaxation" and then to sit quietly in "meditation." All the while as I am relaxing or meditating my brain is racing with thoughts, random tidbits of life dribble through. I have meditated long enough that I do not follow these thoughts, they filter through like the background noise of television in another room. Then there is intentional thinking. Like when one is trying to formulate a response to some situation. Or, when one is writing a paper on an important topic. As a priest with a Masters in Social Work and as a person whose life experience has encouraged a lot of professional psychological therapy sessions I am always thinking about what I say and how I behave. I like to think I am a Reflective Practitioner.

image from here

All these years of work through therapy and seminary and the graduate school of social work never lead me to the phrase "Critical Thinking." I first came upon it while helping my son do research for a "Critical Thinking Skills" paper for his psychology 101 class. There is an entire school of thought built from principles that formulate Critical Thinking. Go ahead, Google it, you'll see. (Or maybe you already know this? Certainly if you went to college in the 90's and later you probably had to write a critical thinking paper...but that did not filter into my dance major curriculum of the 1970's).

Here's the thing. I have no idea how to effective maneuver through those experiences where I encounter some kind of injustice or critique and I want to speak out against it. My efforts to formulate a sound response are always muddled. I realize that I am someone who processes data slowly and need to go away and think about it for a time before I can respond. But that need is so unhelpful when one is sitting in a workshop and the facilitator has just said something that I find either injustice or hypocritical. For example I recently attended a workshop with a well known clergy-person. This person laid out an entire "method" of leadership based on finding the positive and the strengths in every situation. And then proceeded to give examples using women in real life and in scripture that always showed the women to be incompetent and the man (either this person or Jesus) to be the person who prevailed in a positive light by pushing the woman to a new level of behavior. One of my colleagues spoke and suggested that, for example, the woman at the well and the Syrophenician woman were both tenacious fighters for their rights, that they showed inherent strengths. But this person refused to see that. I am grateful my colleague spoke up and articulated what I could not - could not because I was angry and in my anger unable to formulate a response.

If I could effectively develop critical thinking skills I might be able to formulate a response to situations like this.

 "Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action" (Google it, you'll find the online source). 

A Critical thinker:
  1. Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
  2. Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards
  3. thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences
  4. Communicates effectively with others while figuring out solutions to complex problems
  My experience at the workshop: I was unable to listen to the speaker for a good long while because I was angry at the injustice in how women were consisted presented as examples of weakness and men as the ones who rescued them. I was also angry at the complete failure of the speaker, who should have known better, to have insight into his own hypocrisy. This experience has caused me to ponder how I might manage such experiences in the future. Eventually I just got over my anger, but I never said anything. (For the most part I really liked and appreciated what the speaker had to say). I am tired of being a wallflower saying nothing for fear of being  inarticulate. Often when I do speak I find that I am unable to find the words and formulate my feelings into a rational thought. I want to hone my thinking skills, my ability to think through with some sense of self-differentiation - not let my emotions rule the thought process, but serve as a guide through the injustice.

This is a little like meditation or laying in relaxation pose. Critical Thinking, it seems to me, is the ability to set aside my reactive emotions and just sit quietly as if looking at them from a distance. Then, from this "distance" I can examine what I am reacting too, how it makes me feel, and what a just response would be.

I'm fifty-six years old. I really think I should have honed this skill years ago. Sigh. Oh well. Here I go.


Gloria said...

Terri, I have the same problem. I think of "what I should have said" hours later or in the car on the way home. I think it is particularly difficult when it comes to injustices like you mentioned--tired, old negative images of women. Our protests have been dismissed as trivial or as "feminist agenda" in the most negative sense of the word.

Cynthia Hallas said...

Thank you, Terri. I, too, have that problem. If I have a chance to go away and think (or write) for awhile I can craft an appropriate response, but by then it's usually too late. I know that I'm know that I'm often judged (or at the very least, questioned) by people who cannot understand why I didn't just speak up, but the right words don't come easily. Of course, there are far too many people who speak without thinking....but I guess that's my rationalizing mind at work!

Lisa :-] said...

I think there is too much pressure in our society today to react immediately (and rudely) to "injustice". I am a fairly decent critical thinker, I think...but that doesn't mean I can always speak up articulately in an immediate situation. I think that your self-described "slow" way of processing data is more blessing than curse. In the case of this workshop, perhaps it is best that you went away and thought about it for awhile so that you could articulate your feelings. NOW it would be a good idea to write a letter to the lecturer containing a well-reasoned argument against the content you thought objectionable.

Think about what your goal would be here: Is it to cause this person to stop using these examples (which will be just as likely to be carried out through a calm, well-reasoned argument on paper), or to let a bunch of other people know that YOU objected to the content (which would have been the chief result had you spoken up at the time?)

Your problem is not that you aren't a critical thinker, it's that you aren't particularly extemporaneous about it...but as long as you follow through later if something is important enough, you are probably having more effect than if you spoke out immediately.

Anonymous said...

Terri, I so appreciate your honesty and feel you articulated it all just fine. As a person with no filter between thought and speech, I wish I could hold my tongue so often. That's one thing I like about communicating on the internet. I can go back and delete something. I feel, since knowing you in LPHS, you have not betrayed who you are and are such a role model for continuing on the journey of evolving your spirit I think you are doing an awesome job and should not be so
'critical' of yourself! We are always a work in progress.

Terri said...

Gloria, yes some of what inhibits me is the experience of being dismissed when I try to articulate my thoughts. Also, I often experience others in the room as far more capable of clarity of thought and expression than I, so I usually just wait for them to speak up.

Another piece of this is some work inside of me that accepts the idea that sometimes the other person just can't "hear" what I am saying. So - is it that I did not articulate clearly or the person can't hear me?

Cynthia, as introverts who serve in the public sphere, this is something we have to contend with. I know I will always need to go away and process and consider a response - but I also know that I can have some responses in my "tool bag" that enable to at least stay focused on the conversation instead of drifting off into my head and emotions.

Lisa, yes totally - I do not want to be one of those run of the mouth reactive people so prevalent in the world today and yet I also want to be a person who can and does speak up for the injustices I experience.

Kathy (I assume you are anonymou) - I love that you commneted here - you have known me a long time, my friend. Thank you.

kdoyle said...

I used to get into trouble for my immediate reactions early in my career. Now, I'm older and wiser--or am i?

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...