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The Hard Cruel World

What help can you expect from the world about you in becoming a critical thinker? In the ordinary case, very little. Family, schools, acquaintances, employers—each have agendas that are not focused on the value of critical thinking in our lives. Most people—family members, teachers, acquaintances, business associates—have multiple problems in their own thinking: prejudices, biases, misconceptions, ideological rigidity. Few can help us directly and effectively to improve ours. Whether in a personal or public world, whether in a private or a business world, action agendas, only partially understood by those maintaining them, are the order of the day. If we are "in the way," if we act out of keeping with what is expected of us, we are likely to be introduced to the "school of hard knocks." Like it or not, we need to learn how to analyze the logic of the circumstances and persons with which we must deal and act realistically. For example, if you find yourself working in an organization, you must be prepared to take into account the actual structure of power within it, along with group definitions of reality, bureaucratic thinking, and other variables that may diminish the quality of day-to-day thinking. Nevertheless, it would be folly to speak candidly without thinking of the likely consequences of that speech. Critical thinking helps us to see with new eyes. It does not require us to endanger ourselves or act against our best interest. We must integrate three dimensions of thought. We must be idealistic (and thus capable of imagining a better world). We must be realistic (and thus see things as they are). And we must be pragmatic (and thus adopt effective measures for moving toward our ideals).

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