The lost art of critical thinking: believing what you hear

I recently had a conversation with a co-worker where he was telling me a few stories of how he’d been burned by friends who told him things that turned out to not be true.

My first question: Did you do your own research or consider what was driving their perspective or interpretation of events? The answer: no.

This brought me back to a conversation we had a few weeks earlier. He had told me about some bad experiences he had been having with an employee of mine. I listened to the story, took notes and then did my research.

I started investigating the facts and talking to others who were involved in the incidents about which I was told. In fact, I also talked to the person in question to get their side of the story.

There’s a phrase for this: Trust, but verify.

I trusted my co-worker person as a source. In fact, it was my trust in him that led me to do my own investigation.

Whenever I hear an assertion or news story, my first reaction is to consider what is the other side of the story. Chances are, some of the key facts are being omitted to serve the side of the one telling the story. Other times, they just don’t know all the details – some of which may be critical to the story.

Sometimes, our previous biases against a person or organization can alter our filter. Take the Donald Trump story.

When Trump was announcing his candidacy, he said about Mexican immigrants:

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

A lot of people went immediately to mocking his statement because they think he’s dumb and expect to make a joke of everything he says. He is, to many, a joke.

But whether or not he’s a joke, you still have to consider his words. He didn’t say all immigrants are rapists, as many would have you believe. He said some are, and some are good people. It’s right there in his statement.

And the facts are on his side. Look no further than the woman killed by an immigrant man who had been previously deported several times. But if you want to go deeper, there are plenty examples of crimes committed by illegal aliens.

If nothing else, they’re here illegally, and that, in itself, is a crime.

Bringing it back to my co-worker, my investigation revealed that his concerns about my employee were correct. But he ended up quite angry with me for not trusting him and just taking his word for it.

But that’s exactly what got him in trouble with his friends in the first place. (As an aside, it’s also why he made fun of Trump’s quote to me… because he had heard people make fun of Trump without actually researching the quote and the veracity of it.)

The lesson? Before reaching a conclusion on any information you hear, you have to dive deeper and do your research. Consider what the other side of the story is saying and why. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself always vulnerable to being manipulated by people who may have an agenda that goes against your own.

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