Words are funny things. The meaning of any given word may vary depending on context, or differences between world maps of speakers. Language has subtlety, and adaptability; it changes over time, based on common use.



Consider ‘critical thinking’. I found myself having a challenging conversation with someone about the nature of critical thinking, versus being ‘critical’. It took quite a bit of careful defining of terms, and semantic exploration to figure out where the core miscommunication could be found that resulted in such an adversarial dialogue about a word.

someone else's critical thinking word cloud.

someone else’s critical thinking word cloud.

I’ll probably be spending a lot of time on this one, there is certainly more to understand than I can offer up today with any coherence. When I study, I start with basics. So, this morning it is a refresher on critical thinking, in general, as well as reading up on criticism. Where the two share emotional territory seems to be the sticky bit for understanding and communicating.

Someone else's word cloud for criticism.

Someone else’s word cloud for criticism.

My superficial initial reading suggests that the heart of the matter may be that critical thinking is a process of self, directed inward, and largely ‘about’ developing clear, rational thinking practices that result in a usably correct understanding of the world.  Critical thinking seems less about what I communicate to the world, than about what I understand of the world, myself, and how I got to that understanding.  Criticism is generally directed outward, ideally with an intent of providing a possibility for an improved outcome, improving a process, simply reaching a meeting of the minds, or improving upon a future outcome through communication of observations of less-than-ideal current conditions. (In my less-than-ideal experience of life and the world, criticism is often used for less wholesome purposes: directed at individuals to cause pain, to control behavior, to denigrate, to reinforce ‘place’ in a hierarchy, to enforce one’s own sense of self, or to support one’s own ideas, understanding, or context in life by tearing down what someone else understands. These uses of criticism have nothing whatever to do with building, achieving, or growing. Criticism is a favorite emotional weapon of the callous, the cruel, and the controlling. Emotional weaponry has nothing to do with critical thinking.)

It could be as simple as this, critical thinking has never made me cry, not even once, not ever.

There are ways to adequately, rationally, communicate disagreement without making someone cry. There are certainly ways to share improvements on an idea with hurting someone’s feelings. Criticism isn’t my first choice for either of those communication needs.

This weekend I am balancing my own critical thinking, and my desire to improve on that, and the very different need to communicate if/when I disagree with a statement, an outcome, or see an opportunity to improve on a task in progress. I won’t be using criticism. Today is a good day to change the world.