I live in a world where I have access to unlimited information and limited time. It seems as if all news, opinions, tweets, posts are given equal priority in my social spaces and it is easy for me to default to quick “gotcha” talking points on breaking events (all events seem to be breaking lately) and wallow in the satisfaction of an old-fashioned game of meme one-upmanship . This may be entertaining but it doesn’t necessarily encourage deep reflection on inherently complex issues. I often struggle with distinguishing between that which is worth my attention and that which is worth letting drift by. It is easy to get cynical or hopeless about my individual agency in changing seemingly intractable systemic problems in economic inequality, the environment, or my big one- education. But one of the things I’ve decided I can do on a personal level is start exercising good judgment about what I allow into my thoughts and how I let it affect me.
Thinking is a privilege. To have the free time to sit back and deliberate about my current situation and how it is a result of my past and how it will shape my future is a gift for which I am thankful. I try not to judge those who may not have grown up in an environment that supported strategic thinking or are constantly reacting to the micro- decisions that can take up a disproportionate amount of cognitive bandwidth. But for someone like me who has enough time enough to post on social media, I’ve found an exercise (not THE, or the ONLY exercise) that seems to help in maintaining some kind of equilibrium when it comes to the constant barrage of 1’s and 0’s I experience. I’ve been practicing using a method of questioning for the last few years in interactions with my students, colleagues, friends and family (often to their chagrin, I’m sure). The 5 Habits of Mind is a framework promoted by two of my educational heroes that encourages asking questions of 1) evidence 2) perspective 3) connections 4) alternatives and 5) significance about the information we encounter. Here’s how it might work when I look at a shared post at the top of my newsfeed with the headline “It is Undeniable: Candidate X is the Most _________ Candidate in History”. (edit: obviously I don’t do this for every post or completely for any post, it’s just a series of suggested questions I might ask):
1) Evidence: What evidence is being presented here? Do I find this evidence credible? What counts as evidence in this field? Do I even know enough to know what counts as evidence in this field? Is this based on the opinion of an expert or the feelings of someone who doesn’t have a background in the topic? Could one’s expertise make their opinion even more entrenched in bias?
2) Perspective: Whose perspective is represented here? Whose perspective is left out? Why am I attracted to this particular perspective? In what ways might this perspective be valid? Why do I discount some perspectives as illegitimate? Have I always had this perspective? Is my current personal viewpoint on this topic worth keeping or tossing? How can I avoid confirmation bias informing my perspective?
3) Connections: How is this connected to what I already know? How is it connected to what I don’t know? In what ways is this connected to what I read yesterday? How might it be connected to what I will read tomorrow? How is it connected to my favorite artist? Book? Vacation spot? Child?
4) Alternatives (Supposition): Would I believe this if some of the major points were switched (i.e. black to white, male to female, theist to humanist)? Would I accept this if it was about another country? What would I do if I was in their place?
5) Significance: What are the long term effects of this? Is this significant to me? If it’s not significant to me, to whom might it matter? Why might it be significant to them? (This last one throws it back to “Perspective” and you can start the whole process again.
Why did I say this was a political post if I don’t mention my allegiance to one candidate or distaste for another? Democracy requires discussion, but not all discussions are equal. Talking at someone with no intention of considering their side of the story is not useful to changing minds and attitudes. While some of the most condescending and reactionary posts have helped me sharpen my ideas, the posts inspiring honest debate by demonstrating respect for diversity of thought have been most beneficial to me. My hope is that practice with the 5 Habits can lead to a more compassionate understanding of another person’s lived experience, which is the bare minimum I can extend to those with whom I agree…and especially to those with whom I don’t.