Earlier this week I was visiting my son in Pittsburgh where he plays for the Pirates. When Austin and I are together, we talk much less about baseball than we do about philosophies of what Douglas Adams calls “life, the universe, and everything.”
We were walking the streets after breakfast when Austin proclaimed that all our positions on subjects is based on Perspective.
As I was thinking about his comment, I came across this quote by Thomas Merton. Merton wisely calls for us to regard with importance the values of critical perspective and detached observation (which is observation without prejudice). I think Merton’s inclusion of the adjective “critical” is essential, for without it our perspectives (or perhaps, worldview) are merely tired and boring predetermined assumptions.
The Mind is a Meaning-Making Machine
As my friend (and fellow thinker) Caitlin Cogan Doemner says, “Our Mind is a Meaning-Making Machine.” Although we may adopt the philosophies of great thinkers, at the same we remake those philosophies in such a way that they become acceptable to our own predisposed Perspectives.
For most people, our minds love to discover ideas that support our pre-determined positions or perspectives. However, some other people have learned to embrace the notion that there exists legitimate ideas contrary to their beliefs. And they employ new ideas as a means of remaking their personal perspective. That is because, for them, Critical Perspective has little to do with confirmation and more to do with growth in understanding.
The Mind Can Be Like a Sieve
Our minds are not unlike logical and emotional sieves, removing that which we find either untrue or disagreeable. In doing so, our sieves often remove ideas and notions that we find cacophonous to our predetermined perspectives. Unfortunately, such a predetermined perspective leaves no room for new and corrective alterations to our personal perspectives.
This is where “critical” perspective comes into play.
A Critical Perspective is Often Malleable
It may be said that Critical Perspective works best when it is, at the same time, both solid as well as malleable—standing firm while also confident enough to say, “Hmm, I have never thought of it like that… I must ponder your perspective more deeply.”
Maybe that is why Merton also calls for “detached observation.” In order to be critical thinkers, there comes a time get out of our own way. Such thinking requires understanding our own prejudices and pre-determined notions.
Yes, you are what you believe. And when your perspective is one of both openness and solidarity, you are certainly enroute to wisdom.
Is Firm Yet Open
Photo courtesy of Kyryl Gorlov at istockphoto