“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

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.