Sadly, critical thinking – or the skill of breaking down information and identifying the relevant points facts within a message is not something which is often taught in a way which really helps people to become discerning in respect of what they read, hear or see.
We’ve all heard of ‘fake news’. So much of the information we receive is now being questioned that we can easily fall into the trap of discounting or ignoring sources which we do not already know or use – just because they are unfamiliar, whilst we can also place to much reliance upon the sources that we have always used.
A significant level of the content of all news we access is simply opinion. Whilst an ‘angle’ makes us feel happy when we are reading a source with which we unthinkingly identify with (The paper we have always read, or a political blog which echo’s the particular brand of politics we follow etc), it is easy, even for the most intelligent of us to overlook key facts, events and possibilities, when the noise of the writer or speakers opinion has drowned out the points which are not a key part of what they want us to hear.
Giving a genuine voice and true leadership to voters requires politicians and community representatives to have an open mind; to be able to analyse information and pick out the relevant details or salient points – often in real time, which could be a conversation or a debate, and then effectively translate it in terms of its impact(s) and consequence(s).
In the local and national news
The good thing about critical thinking, is it is a skill which can be learned and developed.
Focusing on points of information about actions taken and events that have alraedy happened, rather than what a commentator thinks about it OR what they are speculating will happen as a result of an action or event is a very good place to begin.
Equally, information about planned or scheduled events is helpful to know. Whereas what a commentator tells us they think is likely to happen during that event helps nobody.
If you only follow news from one or perhaps two different sources each day, it would be sensible to start following other sources too, and definitely ones which you might immediately feel uncomfortable about planning to read or follow.
If you follow the headlines from all the main newspapers and magazines on your Facebook feed, or on Twitter for instance (No you don’t need to subscribe to them all), you will soon start to become attuned to the real content of the news and start disregarding the noise that you have no need to follow.
Word of mouth, gossip and the things that ‘people you know’ tell you
As a potential candidate, thinking about running in a local council election, it’s is easy to ignore the national news and to think the rules for the local information that ‘finds its way to you’ are different.
It isn’t. They aren’t.
If anything, you would be wise adopt an even more robust approach to dealing with the information which finds its way to you by ‘word of mouth’ and gossip – which in this sense means anything that ANYBODY in your community tells you, that you would not otherwise have been aware of.
Inhabitants of the political world, whether they are politicians, activists, officers or community workers can be some of the worst gossips you could imagine. It is easy to become snared in the elephant trap of assumed truth, trusting a source which has told you something that they heard from someone else, who heard it from someone else, who themselves heard it from someone else who was actually there when something happened…
- TRUST NOTHING YOU CANNOT SUBSTANTIATE!!!
- Run your own race. DO NOT unwittingly become the voice or mouthpiece for someone else’s campaign – whatever it might be, as their words can easily invalidate your own
- Always listen carefully to everyone, whether you consider them to be friend or foe. Filter out their opinion from what they say or write and translate the validity of the messages that they are really providing.
- Do not repeat, resend or retain gossip or speculation in any form UNLESS you need to do so for purposes such as making a legitimate complaint about someone else’s conduct or behaviour to an appropriate authority
- If news you are given could be useful, check out the facts and confirm whether the information is true.
- ALWAYS validate information you are going to bade or build an argument on.
- If you have ‘validated’ information, keep a record of the source and if possible, a link to any articles, documents or copies of the information that you have found.
- Quote these sources when you speak or write, but only repeat or reproduce the information exactly as it was published by the original source. NEVER CHANGE ANYTHING YOU USE FROM ANOTHER SOURCE – NO MATTER HOW TEMPTING OR EASY IT MAY SEEM
- Follow as many different news sources as possible on Facebook and Twitter
- Watch the news and make notes of what the news actually is
- Watch current affairs programmes and focus on the facts which guests use to build their arguments vs the opinion they wrap around them