By Troy Headrick
Most thoughtful people would agree that being able to think critically or “outside the box” is something one should aspire to. I don’t see any sort of controversy associated with such an assertion.
One of the things I do as the director of a writing center at a community college in Texas is create and deliver workshops that help students learn what critical thinking is and provide them with opportunities to practice it. By the way, during my workshops, I often tell students that I actually prefer the term “creative thinking” to “critical thinking” because intellectual activity of this type is inherently creative. When people think critically, they create a new way of looking at something (and thus see this thing in a new light) or they construct connections between ideas that heretofore hadn’t existed. Critical thinking is thusly creative because it allows the thinker to put an idiosyncratic spin on something that is completely unique to the person doing the thinking. Critical thinking is creative thinking because it is very similar to imagining or interpreting, both acts of creation.
I would argue that it is easier to think creatively or outside the box if one looks for opportunities to have creative or “outside the box” life experiences. In other words, living an unusual life (or having out of the ordinary life experiences) is likely to make one more open to the possibility of entertaining or embracing unusual or extraordinary thoughts.
Ergo, one of the best ways to open one’s mind is to seek out experiences that take one outside his or her comfort zone. Many want to live lives of comfort, but comfortable people often have no incentive to move beyond conventional thinking and ideas. (Necessity is not only the mother of invention; it is the mother of creative thinking—aren’t invention and creative thinking just two different ways to say the same thing?)
Those of us who want to improve our thinking should broaden our experiential horizons. Having said all this, I’d like you to watch Take “the Other” to Lunch, a TED Talk by Elizabeth Lesser.
Lesser’s lesson is simple. One way of getting outside one’s comfort zone is to talk to and get to know the kind of people one would normally try to avoid. We live in these little silos of thought especially in this tribal period. We wall ourselves off from ideas that run counter to our own little way of seeing the world. Doing this keeps us parochial. The best way to grow is to try something hard, and what could be harder than sitting down with someone who is nearly certain to say something that one finds objectionable if not abhorrent?
We owe it to ourselves—if we want to get beyond our limitations—to get to know “the other.” By talking with him or her, we might find that we have at least one thing in common. This one thing could help begin a conversation, serve as a foundation, or even be used to build a bridge.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art.