Critical thinking makes for objective writing

Welcome to BGSU! 

For those who are beginning their academic journey, you’re in for a bracing— and perhaps strenuous— experience.

We’re in the “truth business” here. A viewpoint or perspective is just that— an individual understanding of reality. Objective truth is not self-contradictory, nor is it the subject matter for a referendum.

For instance, there may be differing and even conflicting views on how to reduce hunger but the underlying reality or “truth” is that no one should remain hungry.

There can be, and often are, a great many viewpoints and a good deal of controversy about the means or methods to achieve a goal, but the goal must not be used to justify the means. Elimination of hunger, for instance, does not permit the confiscation of food from farmers without compensation.

Intellectual diversity may reign supreme here, yet there are certain common threads that should unite us. Everyone is answerable to his or her own conscience. No position should be taken without being thoroughly scrutinized through the lens of critical thought.

“Critical” is the operative word here, and it’s important to appreciate what it isn’t. “Critical” does not imply knee-jerk, unthinking fault-finding or scorning ideas that may be disagreeable. 

The word “critical” implies a thoroughly analytical, objective approach toward understanding a viewpoint, and leaving the possibility open that either one’s position or the new idea may be faulty. 

We should also understand that at times both a new viewpoint as well as ours may be faulty, at least in part. Things can become also difficult when the new idea conflicts with our long-held beliefs and our beliefs may need re-examination.

This is where our conscience enters the picture. We’re responsible for our words and actions, including any consequences that flow from our decision to act- or not to act.

It’s not an easy task to alter a point of view, and it shouldn’t be changed for transient, spur-of-the-moment reasons or to conform to the culture’s latest position. 

History is replete with those who stood by their beliefs. History is also populated with those who were silent or passively agreed with the tide of current cultural norms. They are the enablers and some stood by and watched as evil marched. 

For those who are continuing their academic journey here at the University, these same thoughts apply, but with an additional emphasis.

It’s easy to become inured or even jaundiced by the constant flow of new ideas at a university and to mentally “check out” and not engage in the critical task of critical thinking. The tendency may be to become cynical. 

When this occurs, we can lose our edge. We are no longer competitive in the world of new ideas. 

It only becomes a matter of time when we begin to lose the competitive edge in other areas of life. Striving for excellence becomes merely another disagreeable chore. 

Two final thoughts. First, a university is filled with distractions that can compete with the focus. And the focus is studying. So the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. 

This leads to the second thought-— actually a number: 168. 

That’s the number of hours in a week. None of us have more, none have less. 

In those 168 hours, we need to study, sleep, eat, attend to personal hygiene, exercise, socialize and have some free time just to collect ourselves. Time management is critical. 

So regardless of your stage in your academic journal, welcome. 

The campus has been largely quiet for the past few months, and it will be pleasant to hear the sounds of life and learning again.

Be responsible, be curious, and take advantage of what this University has to offer.

Best of luck.