By Ferris Eanfar, Managing Partner, Vision Bancorp
Certain religious people believe in a concept called “Immaculate Conception.” This phrase is used as a reference to the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus Christ without requiring any form of sexual intercourse. Your religious beliefs are your own business, but the concept of the Immaculate Conception is a useful analogy to describe another phenomenon that exists in our society regarding the process of developing discernment in the human mind.
It seems that some people believe in the spontaneous birth of discernment, which I call “Immaculate Discernment.” These people think that discernment is something that you’re either born with or not—no exposure to reliable information required. Unfortunately, when enough people believe in Immaculate Discernment it can have devastating affects to individuals, communities and nations.
You can often recognize when people believe in Immaculate Discernment whenever they say something like, "Of course, everybody knows about political and special interest propaganda. I’m not stupid, I can separate fact from fiction and I don’t need to spend time studying the issues." To that, I respectfully say this: If any person reading this believes that it’s possible to discern between fact and fiction without being armed with reliable information, especially when being bombarded by the types of sophisticated and well-funded political tactics used in modern political campaigns, they are grossly underestimating the importance of reliable information and critical thinking skills.
What is "Objective Information"?
Virtually everybody thinks they know what “objective information” is, but their actions, their votes during political elections, their stock/forex trading behavior, and their decisions in their daily lives often suggest otherwise. It’s likely that 99 out of 100 people would say they know exactly what “objective information” is because we all want to believe that we are intelligent enough to see the world accurately, but when you ask them where they get their information, those same people will invariably point to various news sources, books, magazines, politicians, celebrity commentary, website blogs, talk radio hosts, and even fictional movies and television programs. This may come as a surprise to many people, but none of those sources of information provide truly “objective information.” Each type of information source noted above is filtered through somebody else’s biases and prejudices before you receive it, which means they are not purely objective sources of information.
How can we make decisions without truly objective information?
Although there’s no such thing as truly objective information, that doesn’t mean you can’t use "reliable information" to make effective decisions in life and in business. Reliable information requires that you develop critical thinking skills so that the decisions you make are based on a more systematic process that will enable you to avoid being manipulated by the media, politicians, corporations and others who do not have your best interests in mind. To that end, here are some of the most powerful critical thinking tools that you can immediately start using in your daily life:
1. Question Everything. You should question everything you see, hear and read, regardless of the source. This process of questioning things is the foundation of all critical thinking. This doesn’t mean being obnoxious and asking irrational questions without any purpose; it means thinking about the issue and asking thoughtful questions that naturally come to mind. If no questions come to mind, you’re probably not evaluating the information effectively and you should make a stronger effort to think about the issue some more until you come up with some relevant questions.
2. Falsify Everything. Try to “falsify” what you read/view/hear, especially if some important aspect of your life depends on you making a good decision. To falsify information is the opposite of trying to verify information. Verification is useful too, but the problem with the verification process is that it implicitly causes you to only look for evidence to support the issue, which makes you vulnerable to the “You’ll always find what you’re looking for” phenomenon. In contrast, consciously trying to falsify something forces your mind to look at what everybody else is usually ignoring, which enables you to very quickly see the truth in situations when a counter-productive “mob mentality” might be dominating a particular issue.
In practice, falsifying something simply means that you ask yourself this simple question: “Are there any situations where this information does not apply?” This is one of the most powerful forms of critical thinking because it forces your mind to look for exceptions to the “rules” that the media, radio hosts, bloggers, corporations, politicians, etc. are feeding you. If you can think of a lot of situations where the information does not apply, then it’s very likely that the information they’re feeding you is very biased and intended to manipulate you. In this case, it’s your responsibility to continue studying the issue until you can find alternative information that has more universal applicability in your life.
3. Follow the Money. We’ve all heard this, but many people still do not use this powerful critical thinking tool in their daily lives. Anytime you hear somebody talking about an issue that affects a large number of people (usually politics and corporate commercials), it’s imperative to ask yourself: “Which people are most likely going to make a lot of money if this legislation is passed?” Or “Which parts of society or special interest groups will receive the most money or benefits if this president is elected?” Or “Will a merger between these two companies benefit consumers or will it eventually lead to less competition and higher prices?” In many cases, this “Follow the Money” critical thinking tool alone will help you avoid being manipulated so you can make better decisions in your business and in your life.
4. Focus on Quality of Life. Whenever you are exposed to new information from people that are doing something on your behalf (politicians, companies, unions, non-profit organizations, etc.), ask yourself: “Will this improve the quality of my life? If so, how exactly will it improve the quality of my life?” And don’t rely only upon the answers from the politicians, corporate officials, union bosses, etc. that are creating the rules because they obviously have a vested interest in giving you the answers you want to hear. Instead, ask other people in your community. Get as many opinions as possible from the most diverse set of people possible. And if you use the critical thinking tools described above while you’re talking to people, soon you will see whether the propositions that are supposed to be “good for you” are truly going to improve the quality of your life or not.
5. Seek Out Dissenting Opinions. This is the hardest technique for people to perform, but it’s one of the most important. Most genocidal tragedies are the result of politicians and military dictators who would not tolerate dissenting opinions, and as a result, many millions of people have been murdered. History is filled with human atrocities caused by people who did not appreciate or tolerate diverse opinions.
Although most people do not face the threat of genocide in their daily lives, seeking diverse opinions is extremely important because it shields us from insular thinking, prejudice, and racial discrimination. These are all hallmarks of ignorance and ignorance is arguably your worst enemy in every situation. Seeking out diverse opinions also strengthens your critical thinking skills and improves your ability to defend your own values and adjust your opinions when your assumptions and beliefs are based on inaccurate information. You will always make yourself stronger—never weaker—by surrounding yourself with people who have diverse opinions. And people will respect your inner strength and character when they see that you can explore many different ideas, even if you don’t agree with them.
There are many other critical thinking tools that you can use to find reliable information, but if you only integrated the five techniques above into your life, in most cases you will be able to avoid being manipulated by the media, politicians, corporations, and anybody else who does not have your best interests at heart.
About the Author:
Mr. Eanfar is a Managing Partner at Vision Bancorp, which specializes in commodities-backed asset management, commodities trading. His professional experience spans diverse environments including technical development, media, finance, military and government affairs. Mr. Eanfar can be contacted at the website: https://visionbancorp.com.