Are you a Blind Follower, or a Critical Thinker?

by Diana Oliveira

Sometimes I feel like everyone is controlled by some kind of a major force that makes people behave and think in the same way. Yes, a major force called society which from the moment we are born, shape us with millions of social stimuli and teachings about what is wrong and right to do, to think, to believe, to strive for… It is a hell of a work to sculpture a human being in the right way so he will be similar and accepted. “Don’t annoy people’s lives and systems with divergent thoughts please!”

I just laugh to myself when I get thinking that no one has a clue of why and how we exist and got to this planet in the middle of a supposedly infinite universe, but still we are so easily driven and serious about sticking to the rules humanity decided were the right ones. “Just go to school, learn this stuff, do what you are told to, strive for professional success, travel a little, get married, have a family, try hard to balance all the demands…and then you can get old and that’s all you need to achieve whatever the purpose is, of our blind human life.”

Well, this is why I try to learn how to think by myself and question my assumptions and habits. I’m quite obsessed with introspection, self-awareness and trying hard to unveil my true values, beliefs and thoughts without all the society’s guidelines. You might think that your decisions and beliefs reflect your own true self but the truth is that there are several studies showing that we are terribly unconsciously influenced by the general opinion of people around us.

For example, it’s proved that there is a psychological phenomenon named Groupthink which leads people to accept irrational or dysfunctional ideas because of the desire for harmony or conformity within the group. Moreover, another experiment that shows us an interesting perspective on social customs is the “Curious Monkey Experiment” (It is worth to click).

Blindly accepting the social scripts given to us can be sometimes quite dangerous, because we might be managing our lives and our important decisions without knowing that we are being influenced by some irrational assumptions. This is why it is essential to train our minds and develop critical thinking, which can impact tremendously our personal happiness and professional success. Furthermore, it is also the key missing skill which is in the origin of some of society’s worst actions.

Why is Critical Thinking Important?

Personal Happiness: we are socially “punished” if we get out of the norms and change the paradigms of life, but if we develop enough critical thinking to understand what the things we truly value are, we can start to follow what really makes us happy instead of following what society thinks we should. Thus, we can begin to fully control our own lives and decide by ourselves which things to focus on and which scripts don’t really make sense anymore and we should ignore.

Professional Success: First of all, critical thinking is one of the skills employers value the most nowadays (check previous post to see what other skills are valued). This happens because there is a fast changing market, which creates an increasing need for companies to have people that are able to challenge the patterns and the ways things are done, so to explore innovative solutions to keep ahead of competitors.

Secondly, as a consequence of following the paths that are relevant for us, instead of what we are supposed to do, I believe we will achieve higher excellence, which will lead us to greater success. While young, it is quite important to break the tendency to follow every employer’s demands and choosing activities, certifications and roles because they will be valued by someone else or will make us sound a person of success and ability. Instead, we should do things that will develop us the most and create the best version of ourselves.

I have the sense that nowadays there is an obsession with filling the CV with apparently remarkable experiences and certifications — Please stop it and rather focus on building yourself internally, because success will come by itself: “I think if you’re remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all.” (Seth Godin).

If you couldn’t tell anyone what you did in the past, but only show what you were capable of doing in the present, would you still follow the same actions?

How to Develop Critical Thinking

  1. INVESTIGATE: Start being a resource investigator and give your life some time to explore several opinions of great thinkers on different aspects of human life (philosophy, sociology, psychology, politics…) because this is key to train your mind to begin viewing different perspectives and start creating your own;

Recommendations: Some resources to help you question yourself and create your own scripts are the books EXCELLENT SHEEP by William Deresiewicz and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. There is also the MACAT platform created in partnership with the University of Cambridge, with the aim to make the ideas of the world’s greatest thinkers accessible and comprehensible to everyone and to develop critical thinking.

  1. ANALYSE: Explore yourself and unveil what are your unconscious beliefs and opinions and try to see what is behind your assumptions;
  2. EVALUATE: Question yourself which of those beliefs and opinions are society’s given scripts instead of your own based on previous experiences and individual reflection;
  3. CONCLUDE: Define your own scripts about life. Critical Thinking is not just about identifying what is wrong but also finding what is the right way and the right answers.
ATTENTION: if you develop your critical thinking and find the guts to share your own different perspectives, this will not always turn you into the most successful person: you will for sure piss off a lot of people, and you will need to learn to accept criticism, judgment and non-acceptance. Anyway, personal excellence and a meaningful life will be worth it, I suppose.

“Have the courage to use your own reason — That is the motto of enlightenment.” Immanuel Kant

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