Critical Thinking as Purposeful Questions

1. Are not creativity and productivity often stimulated by the solitude that would be interrupted by a coach?

2. But even if we need a coach, how would we find one?

3. Would searching for coaches not restrict our self-reliance in areas of our live where we could assist ourselves, if we only would?

This post is stimulated by a brief, but incisive, comment from Kris Murray, one of my students. It illustrates how someone like myself who knows several things I should do when thinking about the world can easily, when left alone, be unconsciously sloppy.

To me a central explanatory device is the belief pattern known as "individualism." I use that term to mean "the persistent assumption that primary causation is internal." In other words, humans choose and thereby create their life situations---their employment status, the quality of their health, the fruitfulness of their careers, the durability of their relationships--in other words, the basic course of their lives. I see this belief as the core belief of American thought with a huge array of consequences for how we discipline our children, treat the environment, protect existing property owners, tolerate large degrees of inequality, establish grading policies in various disciplines of study, largely ignore the conditions in prisons and poverty, and generally restrict our sharing impetus to those in our immediate circle or to those who clearly suffered from an act beyond their control.

I have written more than a dozen law review articles where that idea was the centerpiece. My primary training is in economics, the exemplar of individualistic thought with its Robinson Crusoe thought patterns on almost every page of a standard textbook. 

Hence, even though I know better, I am sure that I see and suggest that individualism is a central feature of human nature. I am embarrassed to write that last sentence.  Gee, cultural anthropology is one of my favorite genres to read. 

Kris asked me a simple question via e-mail: do you think that you might be less likely to see individualism as pervasive had you been reared in a Scandinavian country?  OUCH. Someone has not been doing an adequate job of strong sense critical thinking, i.e., applying the critical thinking skills I possess to my own reasoning.  I needed a coach.

On one level this post is praising the obvious. Surely we know that others know and can see what we cannot and do not see. In addition, we recognize that certain social interactions have been the platform on which we have stood to accomplish those things that make us proud of ourselves.

Yet, our fears and egotism are frequently conducive to keeping those who can assist us at arm's length.  What could they possibly know about the life I am leading? 

Plus Emerson told us that solitude is the source of genius. Numerous acts of creative transcendence have been accomplished by separation from the social networks that self-help books consistently tout. But no one is arguing that one needs a coach 24/7. There is plenty of room for solitude AND a coach or two.

Finding a coach is no easy task. I have a suggestion.  Be open to all possible coaches, but reasonably skeptical of their advice. Then when you find a wise and caring coach heighten your attention when they reach out to counsel you. General openness to advice will collect large amounts of flawed coaching, but the opportunity to learn from coaching requires a willingness to take constructive, thoughtful advice from wherever it may come.

Paradoxically, perhaps, I do not see using a coach as the foe of our self-reliance. I would never want to be a sponge in the face of a coach's advice.  On the contrary, any advice my coaches provide me must pass through numerous cognitive filters before I heed the advice.

Anyway, thanks Kris. I needed that. Atul Gawande tried to teach me, but I was stubborn pupil.

1. What is the source of our hiding from the numerous coaches available to assist us?

2. Is that first question a variant of my bewilderment about why students do not ask questions when they self-evidently need a coach?

3. Someone needs to write a book: Mistakes Were Made, and by Me.






AuthorM Neil Browne