Critical thinking is, at heart, questioning what you are told instead of taking it at face value. It is evaluating information in a rational framework where facts and reason line up to support or fail to support assertions. Critical thinking skills are highly sought, and have a number of benefits in life. However, with the upsides comes certain downsides.
Memorizing what your teacher tells you and regurgitating it verbatim will only get you so far in school. Memorizing exactly what the teacher told you gives you access to a number of discrete facts you can call on for exams. This will serve you well on questions that ask for such verbatim recitation of information, but the best grades and future success will go to students who can ask questions about those facts, draw connections between them, formulate their own thoughts on the matter, and articulate them.
Critical thinking skills will make you more effective in whatever field you choose to go into. The ability to look at your professional field and make connections to identify opportunities no one else has seen yet will give you an edge. This is the way new and innovative products come about. If you are always just following the crowd, you'll never stand out. In a competitive business world, you're in professional trouble if you can't stand on your own or make valuable contributions to your employer.
Critical thinking skills can help you get along with a wider range of people. This is because if you can step back and evaluate a situation from a perspective other than your own, you can better understand why different people do what they do. This helps you avoid the social conflict that results from two narrow-minded perspectives butting heads with one another. It can expand your social circle, and lead to more harmonious interactions with everyone around you.
The downside of critical thinking skills is that they can lead you into new and frightening territory. You might find yourself questioning the values, even the religion, by which you were raised. There is a certain existential comfort in someone else telling you how the world works, then blindly clinging to those tenets. The price of this simple comfort is forgoing a deeper understanding of how the world works, and all the opportunities this deeper thinking provides. While you can use your thinking skills to find new tenets that make sense, a modified version of those original tenets, or a new understanding of those original tenets, you might feel lost as you move between points A and B.
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