Back in the 90’s this was a phrase going the rounds – ‘Talk to the Hand … coz the ears aren’t listening!”

It was a rather rude way of saying ‘Shut up, stop talking to me because I am not going to listen to you!”

Why did that pop into my head recently then?

Because there are such a lot of arguments and counter arguments going around on contentious subjects like Carbon Taxes, Global Warming or Animal Welfare where both sides of the argument seem to be saying just that “Talk to the Hand – the ears aint listening!”

Even to the point where we now find the amazing spectacle of people rallying, begging to be taxed!!  Don’t ever say that turkeys won’t vote for Christmas, because obviously some will if given the opportunity.  Machiavelli would have been proud.

In a recent discussion on Global Warming a scientist was asked ‘Do you really believe that man has no part in the change of climate?’ to which he answered ‘Yes’ – at which point the passionate believer abruptly said ‘You’re wrong!’

Some debate!!  Why not ask the scientist why he believed as he did?  Why not counter his statement with actual substantiated evidence, investigated and confirmed by peer review? (And by the way notice the closed question?  No opportunity given for the scientist to explain – ‘just answer the question, yes or no!’’ Worthy of any criminal lawyer)

This was a perfect example of the ‘Talk to the hand’ principle of debate which seems to be the norm these days.

What seems to be missing in all of these arguments, from both sides of the great divide, is a factor of Critical Thinking.  Remember the concept?  The ability to weigh up the arguments, think the situation through and come to a conclusion using rational and reasonable solutions.

In fact in 1987 the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking  actually defined it:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualising, applying, analysing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.  In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reason, depth, breadth, and fairness.”

I am not Methuselah but I do remember when ‘critical thinking’ was a vital part of advanced education – when we were challenged and critiqued on our ability to analyse arguments and seek justification and clarification where emotion was allowed to dominate rational debate.

Where we were expected to provide ‘sound evidence and good reasons’ for our point of view. Evidence based on ‘accuracy, precision and consistency’. And we were challenged to ‘analyse and evaluate the evidence.’

When we looked for sound reasons, we were (rightly I think) warned against passionate proponents of opinions that did not stand up to the evidence.

Emotional argument is a tricky thing.  We are swayed by our emotion to create change, and those who have rational reasons for seeking change will inevitably only achieve that when people are moved by emotion to act.

It is the second of Trischel’s principle of communication “Effective communication requires a balance between the intellectual and the emotional components”

The problem with emotional based arguments that have had little critical thinking applied is that the proposed solutions can have long term ramifications which may have not been considered; and people may be manoeuvred into supporting damaging action that does not resolve the situation.

For instance in the recent passionate arguments against live stock exports the lack of critical thinking was evident.  Yes; the graphics on the TV were dreadful: Yes; the way in which living creatures were treated was appalling: Yes; we must do something about it.  But slapping an immediate ban on all livestock exports was a solution to which critical thinking was not applied.

The result? The very animals that the protesters sought to protect were, by their actions, left on the docks in dreadful conditions as equally distressing as those they were protesting against. 

A little critical thinking would have realised that there were other more rational, realistic solutions that would not  have left those animals to suffer, and where farmers and workers in a lawful industry would not be facing  loss of incomes and their jobs.

And when challenged, the supporters of this cause say in effect “Talk to the hand … I will not discuss it.”

Critical thinking seems a thing of the past – and I am not alone in bewailing this loss of analytical ability.  In an ABC radio interview in August 2010, Queensland teacher Peter Ellerton ‘lamented the fact that few educational institutions actively and explicitly teach the skills of critical thinking.’ Read the whole interview.

Without this basis to applying logic and reason to counter purely emotional argument, we might find ourselves again railroaded into so-called solutions that will have dramatic effects on our society and future.

If it is believed that there is a problem, then bring it to our attention by all means.  Supply the critical evidence and allow it to be subject to peer review, and answer the doubters with reasonable and rational justifications.

Appeal to our emotions, move us to believe and engage us in the solution – but do not dismiss our reasonable questions  with “You’re wrong!” and refuse to debate  – that will only harden old cynics like me in the belief that you will not debate it because you cannot prove it.

Which is a position I have come to through a degree of critical thinking I’m afraid; and an understanding of the basis of real communication.  I try to talk to the ears, because the hand doesn’t need to listen, only act.
Michele @ Trischel

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