I tend to try to live my life by one principle:
Sometimes this is easier said than done as I really, really like some people and what they have to say. I connect with them emotionally through their writings, videos and social media posts… so much that I almost go through a mourning period when I find that they have passed on misinformation, inadvertently or otherwise.
I trust these people. They have the letters, the credentials, the formal education that I don’t. I want to read their stuff, absorb it and feel like I’m so much more educated than I was before. In other words, I want to be a lazy consumer.
I remember having a conversation with a wonderful older lady I know when my children were younger. “You are so lucky”, she said to me, “you have so much information now about raising children. We had none of that when I was a young mother.” I nodded my head, thinking how lucky I really was to be able to pick up a book or look something up and have my questions answered – even the ones that I wasn’t asking at all. As my children grew and I joined the interesting world of social media, the onslaught of information became overwhelming. I was encouraged, might I even say indoctrinated, from a young age to trust the “experts”; from self help books to blogs, I was meant to understand that I didn’t have the capability to sort out my own challenges or navigate my own way through life. While I agree with my friend that no information is damaging, I would argue strongly that too much information is just as damaging – and often paralyzing.
Ask any university professor what their young students are lacking more than anything at the moment and I’m fairly sure they will respond with three words: critical thinking skills. We are currently raising generations of people of which the majority only know how to access information, lacking the ability to even question if the information makes sense. Together with the plethora of information from self proclaimed experts, it makes for a disastrous combination.
Certainly qualifications would solve this situation, wouldn’t they? If we look for completion of a formal educational course by the people we are listening to, wouldn’t that make all the difference? Unfortunately, no. Some certifications are self made, and some courses only reflect the viewpoint of one person or a small handful of people who think the same way. Some professionals have solid qualifications and experience in a certain area, but none in others where they are currently practicing or offering advice. Some people have some textbook knowledge but no experience – and we then have to ask if the textbook information is solid and stands up to scrutiny. Some others have experience, but no supporting education informal or otherwise. They often scoff at the idea that their ideas could be proven or disproven through scientific means.
What is a person seeking knowledge to do?
Recognize that one book or a google search will not inform you adequately and may indeed set you on the wrong path entirely. Accept that professional people are flawed, prone to over reaching and there are sometimes politics at play in what they say. Realize that anyone who isn’t open to scrutiny is most likely covering something up. Acknowledge that leeching off of the information and experience shared by others cannot be the sum total of your education. Follow every claim to its origins and examine them. Expand your experience and acknowledge your limitations. If the bulk of what you know and are comfortable with relates to one area, say so.
Above all, learn to question everything, worship nothing – but seek out good people with solid knowledge who don’t have a problem with your open mind. See if what they say matches what they do and check their results against what you know…. you might be surprised who does and doesn’t make the cut.
Never apologize for critical thinking; celebrate it and encourage others to do the same. Who knows, it might just catch on.