Critical Thinking

by Jesse Wolf Hardin on February 5th, 2012
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It is understandable to want to think “it’s all good”, that all things are true in some way, and that criticizing or opposing anything is unnecessary and only adds to the negativity in the world.  We are at a disadvantage, however, and less effective no matter what our aims, if we are so busy accepting, tolerating and rationalizing that we forget to discern and distinguish, to think critically and respond wholly.  We are born conscious creatures with a need and responsibility to make choices… and to respond with intent.  It is not through an uncritical welcoming of all ideas and acts that we co-create our reality and our world, but through this choosing and doing.

excerpted from
Discernment, Critical Thinking & Response:
Assuming Editorial Responsibility For Our Practices, Our Lives, & The CoCreation Of Our World

The complete, full length article will be available March 1st in the Spring 2012 Issue of
Plant Healer Magazine


Daughter Rhiannon ponders how to develop essential critical thinking without becoming a critical person. Art by Jesse Wolf Hardin from the kid’s book “I’m A Medicine Woman Too!”


It’s important to understand the two main definitions of the word “criticism,” the first being “an expression of disapproval of something or someone” based on their or its perceived faults or mistakes.  It is the second definition that we find the kind of criticism essential to our effectiveness as herbalists and paradigm changers: vital “analysis and judgment” of an option’s relevance and consequence, or of someone or something’s evident flaws and merits.

For lack of critical thought, we’re in danger of either blindly accepting the findings and proclamations of vested authorities and agencies, or of going the other extreme and dismissing all rational analysis in favor of a comforting method or preferred notion.  In both cases, we would do well to avoid the “true believer” syndrome, whereby we invite and celebrate any evidence supporting our desired means or outcome, and ignore or denigrate any information that might contradict our chosen reality or desired outcome.  Even empirical experimentation and analysis, arising from processes of discernment and critical thinking, does itself require a constantly discerning eye and ongoing critique.  And the veracity of our dear intuition, too, must be reasonably measured against reality and result.

What is needed is aware discernment and critical thinking from all perspectives, reference points and angles, since it is not just analysis and evaluation of ideas or systems but also an ongoing monitoring and analysis of our thinking process and methodology itself.  To be a critical thinker, we examine our inner premises and means at the same time as we explore and parse the truth and significance of the external world we act on and within.  Whether we’re talking about herbalism or history, politics or spirituality, we’re better off not leaving it to strangers with letters after their names – and corporate or government paychecks – to tell us what to believe or doubt, accept or reject.  Nor it helpful to simply “believe what we want to believe” as I’ve heard some people say, contrary to reported and testable evidence, unsubstantiated by our own repeated experience.  The key is a balance and partnership of both intuition and critical thinking, or what Paul Bergner has named “critical intuition”.

“The essence of critical intuition is to develop an identical process about our intuitive insights. ‘Is this impression really true?’” (Bergner)

“Each of us can benefit from a concerted effort to improve our critical thinking skills as a community. We need to consider scientific research, traditional uses for herbs, conventional wisdom, intuitive hunches and other sources of information, seldom wholly accepting or completely dismissing anything, but instead utilizing whatever elements are real and relevant, helpful and applicable. The key isn’t random eclecticism but careful and responsible choice…” –Kiva Rose

It was over 2,500 years ago that the Greek philosopher Socrates made the radical assertion that a person should depend on neither our learned assumptions nor the pronouncements of authorities and their licensed “experts.”   He set up situations and conversations with his students intended to prove how faulty “obvious truths”, “common knowledge”, dogma and tradition could be, while at the same time demonstrating that those with power and position are no less likely to be misinformed, irrational and downright wrong.  He taught that before the acceptance and implementation of an idea, they should first have their character and reality tested by means of a series of deeply probing questions.  He stressed the importance of evidence over here-say, the exacting examination of assumptions and reasoning, and the tracing out of all implications and consequences.   What became known as “Socratic Questioning” still serves as a tool of clarity and critique, discernment and choice, making effective response possible.

Tools For Critical Thinking:

To be critical, thinking must not be an accepting of “facts” or values at face value.  All must be analyzed and assessed for their accuracy, relevance, breadth and depth, logic and effects.  All perception and reasoning occurs within the constraints of perspective, frames of reference, points of view.  It has an informational history, base and bias, purpose and aims.  All concepts and data are interpretable, all interpretations tend to lead to assumptions, and every inference as well as idea has implications.  In all cases, you may want to look for, and deeply into an idea, concept or choice for:

• The exact wording and toning of questions, as well as their context or lack thereof

• The perspective from which, and frame of reference within which the reasoning takes place

• Likely underlying assumptions

• The actual sources of facts, information and anecdotes

• The quality and methods of collecting information

• The mode and parameters of the reasoning used

• Concepts that make their reasoning possible

• Implications following the use of this line of reasoning

• The possible objectives, aims and agenda

• Potential consequence and unintended results


It’s only when we can discern clearly and think critically, that we can most effectively respond, act, help and heal.


(Freely RePost and Forward)

Categories: Jesse Wolf Hardin – Essays & Tales, Relationship and Communication

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