Critical Thinking and Humanist Values

You cannot think well unless you have a goal in mind. Having a goal requires you to have values.

The reason we try to think critically is so that we can make good decisions that will benefit us and hopefully others. I am a Humanist, so the framework in which I make my decisions is, good for me, good for my family, good for my society and good for the world in which I live. And yes, I do consider all of that when I make my decisions.

My point is that in order to make good decisions, we have to have some set of values that allows us to deem certain decisions good and others bad. Those are value judgements that require a value system.

Most of us make decisions by weighing the pros and cons. And again, that’s about what is good and what is bad and those are value judgements and we  have to have a set of values that help us make those value judgements.

Moral judgement isn’t enough though. We also have to know what is true. Here’s why. Moral judgements don’t occur in a vacuum. They are determined by what you think is true and false about the situation you are judging. If you mistakenly believe something is true that isn’t, your moral judgement will be flawed as well.

Humanism values critical thinking precisely because it helps us to not only organize and prioritize our values realistically, but also because it encourages us and reminds to base our decisions on what is true and to change our minds if we find out we are mistaken.  Our goal isn’t to be right or to be seen as right, but to do good.

And this brings us back to the question of what is good. Humanism bases our values on compassion. But it isn’t enough to have a value system, you also need to prioritize certain values above others so that when you have a tough decision to make you know what you consider to be ultimately good. In other words, what is your ultimate goal?  For me, as a Humanist, my ultimate goal or good is to live my life fully, love other people and leave the world a better place. This is what I aspire to.

Knowing what my ultimate good is helps me make difficult decisions precisely because when all other things are equal – I can use these goals as a way to decide which path to take and feel pretty good about it.

To learn more about how a Humanist combines compassion based ethics, critical thinking and personal responsibility into a holistic approach to life, consider taking Living Made Simpler at Humanist Learning Systems.

The benefits of critical thinking.

5 Reasons to make the effort to think critically.

1) Better decisions. Basing your decisions on facts yields better outcomes. To make sure what you think you know is actually so requires a little critical thinking.

2) Better strategies. In order to have an effective strategy you have to know what all your options are and you have to weigh the pros and cons of all of them to choose the one that will give you the best chance of success. Again, this requires thinking

3) You won’t waste your time on proxy problems. A lot of people fail because they try to solve the problem they think needs to be solved when what they are really working on is a proxy problem that is standing in for their real problem. And because they never bother to question the assumptions they made about which problem needs to be solved, they never realize that they are working on the wrong problem. Critical thinking, questioning why you are solving this particular problem will help you avoid wasting time and energy on proxy problems.

4) Better relationships. We all make assumptions. But if you never bother to find out if your assumptions are true, you may be making a mistake. This is especially true when your assumptions are about other people. Taking the time to recognize that other people don’t think like you and aren’t necessarily motivated the same way you are allows you to figure out what really is motivating them. Again, the challenging of your assumptions IS the art of critical thinking.

5) You won’t get taken in by charlatans. Charlatans and scam artists make their money from people who don’t bother to check their claims to make sure what they are saying is true. Don’t be duped. Learn how to question and challenge claims being made.

Secular Mindfulness

Is mindfulness meditation? Or something else?

Mindfulness is the art of paying attention. To be mindful is to be consciously aware of something. Mindfulness is the state being consciously aware. Recently, mindful meditation has been promoted, which is a practice designed to help you to be more mindful in your everyday life.

The problem with meditation is that it is often packaged with woo. Woo, for those of you who don’t know, is a derogatory term used to describe non-science teachings and practices. Most of what passes for self help these days is woo.

But is mindfulness and/or meditation woo?  Well, not necessarily. There are secular non-woo versions of both. Secular meaning non-supernatural and non-woo meaning some has actual science to back it up.

But to get back to the central question, is mindfulness meditation? Or something else?  Yes and no. Mindfulness is a state of being consciously aware. Meditation is a practice which depending on the method can help you become more consciously aware, at least in the moment.

So why do meditation? Well, it turns out that it is surprisingly hard to be mindful. Focusing your attention and awareness for any length of time is something most brains fight. Our minds seem to have a mind of their own. They think what they want to think and it might not be want you want to be thinking about.

Just try and sit still and be aware of nothing but your breath. I dare you!

Most people can’t just be aware of their breath and nothing else without practice.  This is why meditation is called a practice. Meditation, in its most secular non-woo form, is the practice of concentrating.

Assuming you have no medical reasons why concentration would be hard, most people can train their brains, through practice, to concentrate more effectively and presumably on your command. That’s all secular mindfulness or meditation is.

To learn more about how this works and the science behind it, consider taking Rick Heller’s excellent program, Humanist Meditation: Answers for Skeptics at Humanist Learning Systems.

It’s been too long that these behaviors have been tolerated in the workplace

Bullying in the Workplace has been tolerated for far too long. It’s time we do something about it.

Bullying which can manifest as harassment or discrimination is tough to stop. This is because it’s hard to get any behavior to stop. We are all creatures of habit. Habits are hard to break. Harassment/discrimination and bullying are habits. People who do them don’t even necessarily understand that they are doing something wrong. It’s just how they learned to behave.  And yes, that’s very sad.

The problem is that any attempt to get a bully to stop will almost always result in retaliation. Retaliation is predicted in the behavioral model.  The good news is that even though this behavior is predicted that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate it.

Bullying is a learned behavior and it can be unlearned. Decades of research by behavioral scientists have taught us what works and what doesn’t to get unwanted behaviors to stop. It’s time we start applying that knowledge to the problem of bullying in the workplace.

The fact that we don’t have to tolerate harassment/bullying makes it all the more important that we start actively teaching these skills to our employees. You can’t teach what you don’t know.  The first step is to learn what the specific skills are that work and why they work so that you can then teach them to your supervisors and your staff.  In that order.

Imagine what the average workplace would be like if there were no bullies.  We have been tolerating bullies in our workplaces for far too long because we didn’t know there was an alternative. Now that we do, it’s time we put the knowledge we have to work to get it to stop.

My company Humanist Learning Systems offers a variety of bullying and harassment training programs to teach the behavioral psychology techniques required to get bullies to stop. Learn more at: 

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