Throughout our lives, we are faced with choices. Sometimes the right choices are obvious.
Often though, determining right from wrong is much more subjective. Critical thinking skills are needed to be able to map our values against the available choices. Making the right choice almost always requires some evaluation on our part.
At other times, we are presented with opinions from others. Are their ideas right or wrong? Should we accept them or question them? Would it be safe and consistent to our values to accept and follow those ideas? Once again, critical thinking allows us to accept worthy ideas and to reject ideas that are not consistent with our own values.
When I need to decide if something is right or wrong, I should remember to think FIRST.
F – stands for “Facts First – Get all of the information before making a decision. Jumping to conclusions almost always leads you down the wrong path.”
I – stands for “Identify the choices – Make sure you are clear on which issues matter to you, and which are just noise.”
R – stands for “Reflect on my own values – How do my values fit with this decision?”
S – stands for “Stop all or nothing thinking – Absolutes are almost always a false choice. If you hear the words, “never or always, proceed with caution.”
T – stands for “Take a stand – Once the research is done, you should be able to represent your position and you should be able to explain why you believe it is the right position.”
Critical thinking is a skill and like all skills, it takes practice to learn. One of the most powerful things you can do for your family is to pose ethical dilemmas as dinnertime conversation. Pick scenarios from real life, the news or just make them up. For example, you might set up a story by saying,“I just read a story about a man that found a box full of money. He could have just kept it and said nothing, but instead he turned it into the police and they are trying to find the rightful owner. What do you think? Did he do the right thing?”
Remember the goal of this exercise is to teach your kids to think. It is critical that this exercise does not become about find the right answer. Encourage everyone to offer an opinion and praise them for being brave enough to present that opinion. Show them how to think through the issues involved and then make a call based on their values. Don’t just tell them what right and wrong is. Guide them and encourage them to explain why their position makes sense. You want them to think, speak and take a position. There should be no negative comments and no ridicule allowed during the conversation. Everyone’s opinion matters and you need to foster a safe environment where everyone is free to speak. By doing this regularly, your kids will become confident thinkers and speakers – a huge asset for them in their adult lives.
Just as you ask your kids to discuss ethical dilemmas, join in and tell them why you believe what you do. Be sure you are being consistent with your values when you do though! Your kids will learn a lot about how to think through the problems at hand by seeing how you do it.
Be on the lookout for absolutes. If your kids say, “I’m always wrong” or “I’ll never understand this”, remind them that any time we use absolutes like “always, no one or never” it probably means we are not being completely honest with ourselves and we are letting drama rule us, not facts.
Finally, the next time you are solving a conflict in the family, make a point of understanding all of the facts before you make any decisions. Your kids will see how this works and learn to emulate it. If you are a fan of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Steven R. Covey, review habit 5, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”