I wonder how many people in business today have read the Platonic dialogue, “Meno”. It is a brilliant short demonstration of the Socratic method, the way to get to the truth by asking the right questions. In the dialogue, Socrates shows the nobleman, Meno, how he can guide a young slave boy to prove the Pythagorean theorem simply by asking him questions. Imagine the joy in classrooms all around the world if we could get mathematics teachers to read Plato.
But the most important question of all is the first one regarding your prime objective, or in other words, your vision. G K Chesterton typically put it in a nutshell when he said: “What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.” Without a clear understanding of what the right thing to be achieved is, asking “what is wrong?” is meaningless. Ultimately, your answer to ‘what is right’ in every challenge will be shaped by your worldview, which brings us to the third and final question: why is critical thinking not used as it should be today? There are two prime reasons: ideological thinking and the demise of education.
The tragedy of the modern West is a susceptibility to ideological thinking, which is not thinking at all, but rather enslaving oneself to the oppressive ideas of others. Ideology is a narrow view of reality that excludes all evidence that contradicts it; it is about power and control. That makes it the enemy of critical thinking, which by definition is about reality, that is, truth.
In its war against truth, ideology distorts language, giving words meanings that are in outright contradiction of reality, making our unique human gift an instrument of control. Orwell’s famous essay, Politics, and the English Language is essential reading for anyone committed to the principle of human freedom. Wherever people try to shut down debate and force opponents into silence, ideology is at work, trying to suppress the truth that threatens the power its propagators seek to exert overall.
Amid all the ideological shrieking in western politics today, the worldviews of most people need honest personal auditing. If you are unable to engage in a courteous dialogue with someone holding different views to your own, then you can be sure that you are shackled by ideological thinking. Engage them, reason with them, and see if you are able to demonstrate where they may be going wrong. Desmond Tutu gave us a wonderful reminder of this: “My father used to say ‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.’”
Obviously related to the rise of ideology, the demise of education has been a life-threatening wound inflicted upon critical thinking. State schooling is now about technical skills and social control. The astonishingly rich heritage of learning that gave us Antigone and Achilles, Coriolanus and Camille, Hamlet and Heathcliff, Rocinante and Raskolnikov has been trashed as politically incorrect, and the cultural literacy essential to critical thinking shuttered. There could be no clearer sign that the authorities do not want young people to think for themselves.
Of course, the fact that critical thinking is hard work also militates against its widespread use in a chronically self-indulgent society, but only a proper education could hope to cure that. Sadly, it seems that most people in the West now believe that we can resolve all issues with management techniques rather than the hard work of critical thinking on which leadership is built. But why align yourself with most people? Questions, questions, questions.