November 23, 2013

Intellectual Troublemaking.

Quite recently, my personal life has thrown events my way that have required me to engage in some serious personal growth. In particular, I have learnt the invaluable yet daunting quality of critical thinking. Thinking in general is something I am a big fan of. I am generally not quick to comment, but prefer to assess my thoughts quietly until I know what I want to say for sure. I am constantly trying to improve and expand these thinking skills. Not only to grow in my knowledge of the world around me, but to be able to better evaluate the information that I receive, to be able to broaden the way that I think, to think creatively, and to constantly evolve and grow. 

The word 'critical' should not at all be viewed in a negative context in the term ‘critical thinking’. Critically thinking about a particular topic does not necessarily mean that I disagree with the opinion that has been presented to me. It is a 'careful and thoughtful questioning' and may be an 'informed criticism'.[1]

A critical thinker should be inquisitive, alert, self-confident, open-minded, flexible, fair-minded, self-honest, prudent, diligent and persistent.[2] These qualities do not come easy, but with a genuine willingness, hard work and regular self-evaluation, they are certainly attainable. 

My favourite of these qualities is self-honesty. To successfully think critically, I must be ‘honest in facing personal biases’.[3] This strikes me as being one of the fundamental and most fascinating qualities of critical thinking. It is something that only I can assess, and the fidelity to this honesty is something that will only ever be self-recognised. This impels me to believe in critical thinking as an implicit facet of my personality, and especially of my professional identity as a law student and ultimately, a lawyer. It is a quality that will benefit my peers and eventually my clients, but for the most part, it provides me with self-confidence and personal satisfaction. 

Further to these qualities, to purposefully think differently to my peers and to challenge orthodoxy and ‘go against the grain’ is extremely difficult, and takes an immense amount of courage. However, if others are able to empathise with the emotional and social vulnerability that is shown through critical thinking and un-orthodox reasoning, it could perhaps provoke interest and be persuasive to my argument. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that people generally do not openly invite or enjoy their beliefs and understandings to be challenged, so it is vital to always exercise critical thinking skills respectfully and with a great deal of care. 

It also takes courage to consider error in my own thoughts and arguments, and to accept the fact that my knowledge and beliefs may be just as limited as any one else’s.[4] To be a lawyer who is a critical thinker, not only will I need to gain my own initial perspective of a certain claim, argument, rule, doctrine, decision or action, but I will need to maintain the openness of mind to readjust my thinking should further evidence become available.[5]

I have really enjoyed learning about the thinking skills essential to becoming a legal professional. I expect that the Bachelor of Laws course will provide me with ample opportunities to develop my critical thinking skills in a practical way. 

[1] Nikolas James and Rachael Field, The New Lawyer (John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd, 2013) 285. 
[2] Ibid 296. 
[3] Ibid 296. 
[4] Ibid 296. 
[5] Ibid 298.