Critical thinking in the political season

2016 Olympian Board of Contributors Lan Nguyen
2016 Olympian Board of Contributors Lan Nguyen sbloom@theolympian.com

In today’s current political climate, we may forget to think critically. Everywhere on social media, there are videos of a less-than-ideal candidate and all their promises. To maintain our sanity and still keep some of our friends, we consciously should be working on being fair-minded, having empathy and maintaining intellectual integrity. And it may be a challenge to do so.

To be fair-minded means that we are striving to treat every viewpoint relevant to the topics discussed in an unbiased way. There are egocentric traps that come out in the way we all process the information that are coming at us, through all the multiple outlets. Part of being human is the tendency to think and feel like everything revolves around us.

The selfish “me” is seeking gratification, and sometimes we forget whether our perceptions are accurate. We all are naturally egocentric and view the world from our own eyes. We place everything either into “good” or “bad” categories. Most of the time, it is true because we want to believe it is true. Even if what we want to believe is irrational.

We have the natural tendency to view everything within the world in relationship to ourselves. How will this benefit my family? Does this affect my job and daily life? Our own fears and selfish interests can definitely stand in the way of achieving fair-mindedness. And this becomes a big problem when the consequences are long-term.

As critically thinking human beings, we all have innate biases and implicit associations that sometimes we may not even be aware of. Bringing awareness to our own stereotypes makes us more in-tune to our everyday choices. It also put things into perspective, and helps us think about other people’s views. Our actions emphasize how much our environment affects our thinking. Even though we may not want to admit it sometimes. This thinking can affect how we carry ourselves as well as our body language towards other people. Implicit associations are things that we should continue to think more about.

It takes courage to “step outside the box.” That’s also part of becoming a less egocentric thinker. Every day, when I listen to my patient’s stories, I try to empathize with them. This means to fully imagine myself in their place and to genuinely understand them. It entails reconstructing their viewpoints, assumptions and ideas that are different from my own. That means letting of my own biases and self-centeredness, and living in someone else’s life just for the time being. This helps me achieve an appreciation for different contexts and situations and really put things into a new perspective. If we cannot truly empathize with others, how can we truly be fair-minded?

Intellectual integrity is a trait that is attainable, yet marked with subconscious inconsistencies. The process of becoming a better critical thinker over the years includes reflecting on what I believe. After much reflection and clarity about this question, I truly believe in holding yourself to the same standards to which you hold others. If I advised my patient not to smoke, eat healthy and exercise daily, I should be doing the same. We all should hold ourselves to the same rigorous standards and practice daily what we advocate for others. It also means being honest with ourselves when we are not practicing what we preach.

Living in a world full of interesting people who are shaping my thoughts, critical thinking is a skill that I would like to continue developing. Really being aware of my own emotions, egocentric ways and implicit association helps me think more about the perspective of others. Learning to put myself in other people’s shoes is a daily exercise. Having command of my own mind and holding myself accountable makes me more aware of the daily struggle when dealing with other people. Being fair-minded, having empathy and maintaining intellectual integrity should be only the start.

Lan Nguyen, a primary care physician, is a member of The Olympian’s 2016 Board of Contributors. She may be reached via drlnguyen@gmail.com.