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Critical thinking is defined as, “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.”

Are you a critical thinker? Many people aren’t, and yet they don’t even know it.

We are all operating on a series of conscious or subconscious beliefs that we have been taught, absorbed, were exposed to, indoctrinated with, or in some other way influenced to believe, “this is how it is.”

Much of this happens when we are very young, under the age of 5, much too young to understand there may be other beliefs, or that the beliefs we are adopting could in fact be completely off. At the time, there is no ability to filter the beliefs we are exposed to. They simply become our own.

That’s where critical thinking comes in. I am constantly exposing myself to alternate viewpoints and beliefs in an effort to better understand and examine my own. Often the result is a better understanding of my belief and sometimes I will alter my beliefs based on consciously examining them as an adult.

Today, there is a trend in our society that discourages critical thinking. College students are demanding “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” in an effort to avoid being exposed to opposing or alternate beliefs.

Alternate belief systems are being increasingly deemed “unacceptable” by these same people, and they are demanding others conform to their belief system. If they don’t, they reject them as “wrong” or “ignorant” or “a hater” or even demand the person be persecuted or punished for their “unacceptable” (as defined by them) beliefs.

Interestingly these same people often consider themselves “tolerant” and those who don’t agree with them “intolerant.” Ironic?

This line of thinking is exactly the opposite of the principles the United States were founded upon. We’re not a nation of conformity, group think, or censorship. Critical thinking, open debate, and freedom of self expression are all foundational principles to our democracy.

I’d challenge everyone reading this to start examining their personal beliefs, where they came from, how they compare to the beliefs of others, and where they stand up to scrutiny and where they fall short.

If someone says something you strongly react to or immediately oppose, that’s a perfect time to reflect on your reaction, step outside of your beliefs and try to see where the other person is coming from, and consider if perhaps you could learn from their belief rather than just rejecting it outright. Instead of being upset, think of it as an opportunity to grow and to refine who you truly are and what you truly believe.

Every once in awhile, you might just discover a belief you have held since childhood actually doesn’t fit your adult belief systems at all. Other times, you will find them confirmed.

Either way, you aren’t just mindlessly going through life with blinders on. Blinders you didn’t even choose yourself, but ones chosen for you long before you realized you ever even had a choice.