If there is one thing I have learned in my time on this earth, it is that I don’t know everything, and I am not always right. As fervently as I might believe something, experience has taught me that I may not be seeing clearly, or completely, that which I cling to. These experiences have made me more humble, and hopefully wiser. As I contemplate the current state of our national dialogue, the vitriol on social media and our polarized political climate, it occurs to me that we are drifting away from an important facet of our public discourse – critical thinking. The dictionary defines critical thinking as: “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” The key to critical thinking is in the word ‘objective’. To be objective requires us to pull our psyche out of the place of emotion and opinion, to take an even view of a given topic. It also demands that we unplug from our unhealthy need to be right, and entertain the possibility that our views may need to be expanded or adjusted. The ebbing away of our penchant for critical thinking concerns me. Bots on social media have exploited this vulnerability to stunning success in influencing us collectively. How does that work exactly? Well, have you ever scrolled your Facebook feed and stopped at a meme or an article that aroused your feelings? What happens too often is that far too many of us share these excitable posts without ever considering where they came from or whether or not they are accurate. False narratives get propagated and great damage is done to our social discourse because arguments are being made from a false premise. So what would solve this? Critical thinking. Taking the time to objectively analyze and evaluate a meme or an article to determine whether it is factual or merely an inflammatory statement meant to gin up an emotional response that goes viral. The problem has been that we often fall prey to our own emotional responses, and give in to our knee jerk reactions. It can be so easy to click ‘share’. Too easy. It takes time to employ critical thinking. Might I suggest a few tools I employ on social media to help me sort out fact from fiction? Here they are: Restraint, Common Sense, Detachment, and Snopes. So, here’s how it works. An excitable post appears on my wall. Before I do anything, I look for the source. I refrain from engaging with it. If it seems too sensationalized or far fetched, I investigate. If it is a quote attributed to some well known person, I will do a Google search to see if that person actually said those words. SPOILER ALERT: Most of the meme quotes I look into are falsely attributed the person whose name is used to bolster the quote. If the post appears to be a news article, I look at the source. If the name of the news source is unknown or looks fishy, I will go to Snopes, and search the headline. Again, you would be amazed at how many so called news story posts are completely fabricated. Why are they doing this? Because they see a weakness in our increasing inability to use critical thinking, and they have exploited our emotional responses to cause division and polarization between us. We need to stop playing their game. I have a lot of great friends. There is not a single one of them I agree on everything with. But they are still my friends. We need to start thinking again. We need to get back to what it means to have a healthy, respectful discourse about important issues we see differently. We have gotten so accustomed to shouting at each other, I fear we have forgotten how important it is to listen. Keywords trigger our anger and render us unable to hear. So let us all make a determined effort to change the way we consume the stuff we see on social media. My method: ignore most of it. If it is inflammatory, don’t like it, don’t reply to it and don’t share it. Because doing so only feeds the discord these nefarious actors are trying to sow among us. Does this mean all our disagreements will magically be resolved if we all stop being played by social media bots? Of course not. But maybe, just maybe, we can get back to discussing and debating our important issues in a way that is more thoughtful, decent, and based in fact. For my part, I welcome a return to a healthy debate, and to critical thinking.
John Two-Hawks - Grammy nominated Native American Flute Music Recording Artist, author, activist and speaker. FULL BIO