One of the things that our Guru Ji’s practiced in their daily lives, and taught us to do, is critical thinking. We are living in a time where this is increasingly important. The media is feeding us information all the time through magazines, billboards, television, and the internet (whether it’s news or social media). People are sending links of videos to each other via text or apps and news spreads like wildfire, whether it’s true or not, whether it’s a reflection of reality or not.
So what is critical thinking? Critical thinking is simply defined as the “ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do or what to believe” (1). It doesn’t mean that we should be criticizing other people, because that’s not what Sikhi is about. If we picked everything apart we could never really have any faith. What it does mean is that we evaluate what we see and believe actively instead of passively. There are so many sakhis from our history that demonstrate critical thinking in action. For example Guru Nanak Dev Ji questioning the janeoo (see my post on this for more background), or questioning when people were throwing water to their dead ancestors. That is a very well-known sakhi but I will summarize it briefly here. During Guru Nanak’s travels, there were some individuals throwing water towards the sun while bathing in the Ganges as part of a belief that this would reach their dead ancestors (2). When Guru Ji started throwing water in the opposite direction they asked what he was doing, and he stated he was watering his fields in Punjab (2)! The people insisted that this was not possible as his fields were far away, to which Guru Ji asked how far the ancestors were and how the water they were throwing could reach there (2). An important point to note here is that instead of criticizing the individuals, Guru Ji asks them to question their own actions and they realize the emptiness of the ritual. He wasn't criticizing, he was teaching critical thinking. The Gurus taught us to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it, rather than having empty ritualistic practices and superstitions. Rather than just blindly doing and believing things, the Gurus taught us to actively choose our way of life. This is still relevant to us today and we should be actively asking ourselves why we are doing things.
In the media nowadays it is popular for people to show a small clip out of an interaction, or a quote, in order to get us to feel something or do something. Our minds are quick to jump to conclusions if we don’t stop for a second and think about our assumptions. Usually we are only seeing a small portion of the real picture. I think unfortunately a lot of people get trapped into exactly what other people want them to believe, like when the fashion industry shows us photoshopped pictures of models to get us to buy their products. Sometimes it’s an outright scam, like when someone pretends to be the “CRA” and phones your house, or when the Nigerian prince wants to give you an inheritance on your email; but sometimes it’s not as obvious and we really have to use our brains to think about what’s not right in this situation. Interpersonal conflicts happen all the time due to lack of critical thinking and not listening to the other side of the situation. Someone whispers something in your ear and next thing you are exploding and fighting their fight and they’ve stepped away quietly. We need to have more discipline than this, and we need to think more clearly than this otherwise we will fall into a lot of bad situations as pawns in someone else’s chess game. In my schooling, I’ve spent the last 8 years of my education learning how to develop my critical thinking. People challenge us and ask us why we are ordering things like basic bloodwork because everything has potential for harm and decisions must be based on rational evidence-based thinking and problem solving. I think it’s important that we incorporate this into all aspects of life. We need to ask ourselves: how biased is the information I am getting? Am I open minded? Am I understanding all sides of a situation? What do I believe and why?