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Chapter 9. The Art of Making Intelligent Decisions

To live is to act. To act is to decide. Everyday life is an endless sequence of decisions. Some of the decisions are small and inconsequential, and some are large and life determining. When the pattern of decision-making is rational, we live a rational life. When the pattern is irrational, we live an irrational life. Rational decisions maximize the quality of one's life without violating the rights, or harming the well being, of others. Rational decisions maximize our chances of happiness, successful living, and fulfillment. Critical thinking, when applied to decision-making, enhances the rationality of decisions made by raising the pattern of decision-making to the level of conscious and deliberate choice. No one deliberately chooses to live an irrational life. Many, however, subconsciously choose to live an irrational or unethical life. In doing so, they maximize their chances of unhappiness and frustration, or do harm to others in seeking their own advantage.

There are as many domains of decision-making as there are of thinking. Indeed, the most important decision we can make is how and what to think about things, for how and what we think determines how we feel and how we act. We decide what to think, feel, and do when we act as a parent. We decide what to think, feel, and do when we make decisions about our professional lives. We decide what to think, feel, and do when we make decisions about the social world in which we have been raised and the groups of which we are a member (family, professional, personal associations, nation, etc.). We decide what to think, feel, and do when we make political decisions about the policies, parties, and candidates that we choose to support. We decide what to think, feel, and do when we make decisions about what we are morally obliged to do (and what we are not so obliged to do). We decide what to think, feel, and do when we make decisions about our life-style, about the nature and value of friendship, about the nature of what is most important in our lives. We decide what to think, feel, and do when we think historically, sociologically, professionally, environmentally, and philosophically. What is more, the thinking we do in one domain of our lives often is influenced by the thinking we do in other domains of our lives. Often the domains are overlapping. As a result, the decisions we make in one domain of our lives often are influenced by the decisions we make in other domains of our lives.

To become a skilled decision-maker, one must become a skilled thinker, and to become either is to learn to think about our lives both as a whole and as a complex of parts. The most intimate part of the world in which we live originates in our thoughts and actions and is maintained by these. To become a critical thinker, we must become an intimate observer of the manner in which we construct our own intimate world. We must understand how we have been socialized and the implications of that process. We must understand how our socialization is reinforced and reflected in the social institutions that continue to exert direct and indirect influence on us. We must know when we are acting out social routines and rituals that we were conditioned to accept. We must be able to think inside and outside our world, using the latter to critique the former.

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