Applying Critical Thinking Skills to Spiritual Practice

While teaching a college level class a Philosophy course on Critical Thinking I am struck by how useful certain concepts of critical thinking can be if applied to one’s spiritual practice.  Among these are:

  1. Stop and think. Before making rash judgments about a person or situation:
    1. Step back and reflect on the “who, what and why” of a situation. Then use more complex thinking skills like comparison, evaluation and creativity to understand that situation and person more deeply.
    2. Check the facts and sources, especially on what most likely are rumors and misguided information.
  2. Be open to hearing the other person’s views and try to get in their shoes to see where they are coming from. This doesn’t mean you have to accept everything the person says.  It does mean you care enough about that person to respect them, their opinion and the right for everyone to express their views.
  3. Be aware that your own thinking processes keeping you from arriving at the truth. For some examples:
    1. In critical thinking the term “Self-serving Bias” refers our natural tendency to watch out for our own interests. While this is healthy to a certain degree, it can certainly go too far, not allowing us to see or understand the interests of other people in a situation.  It robs us of empathy.  We need to stop and be aware when that self-serving bias is kicking in too much.  We may see the self-serving bias at work in others but it is often very hard to spot in ourselves.
    2. Then there is “Ethical Fading,” a concept which means that when we are actively a member of a group, our personal values and morals may “fade” as we adopt the morals and values of the group to which we belong. This is fine if the group’s morals are more developed than our own, but it can be destructive if the opposite is true.  This means:
      1. We have to be aware of the values of the groups to which we belong. Are they lifting us up or are they bringing us down?
      2. We have to speak up when the group with a high standard starts to deviate from its moral compass.
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