The Art of Thinking

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C H A P T E R

4
Be a Critical Reader, Listener, and Viewer
You may be thinking, “This chapter doesn’t apply to me. I have no trouble comprehending the messages I read, hear, and see.” But this chapter isn’t about basic comprehension. It is about analyzing and evaluating the messages you receive and deciding whether they are worthy of acceptance. Chances are you haven’t had much training in this kind of reading, listening, and viewing. In this chapter, you’ll learn specific strategies for analyzing and evaluating messages.

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ISBN: 0-558-34171-3

ot long ago, while searching the Internet, I encountered a reference to an article describing “Pepper Power Bear Spray,” which was created by a survivor of a grizzly bear attack for defense against bears, lions, and moose. The manufacturer promises “quick access and potent stopping power.” If I were going camping in the deep woods, I thought to myself, I’d certainly feel safer if I had a good supply of that product. Then my glance fell on the very next response to my search request. It read, “Bears attracted to repellent, researcher says.” My curiosity aroused, I read the news article. It seems that though pepper spray can indeed stop a charging bear if sprayed in its face, it has the opposite effect if sprayed on clothing, camping equipment, or the ground around a campsite. A camper who sprayed it around his tent was soon surrounded by a bunch of brown bears. A pilot who sprayed it on his plane’s pontoons returned to find them chewed up. The lesson in that experience was don’t believe everything you read, hear, or view. Unfortunately, many people have never learned this lesson. They erroneously assume that if something is published or broadcast, it must be true. In 67

The Art of Thinking: A Guide to Critical and Creative Thought, Ninth Edition, by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. Published by Longman. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.

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Chapter 4

Be a Critical Reader, Listener, and Viewer

reality, even honest, well-intentioned communicators make mistakes; imperfection is an unavoidable part of being human. The consequences of being misinformed by what is written or broadcast are not always as dramatic as being visited by a family of wild and presumably hungry beasts, but are no less real. Every day people undermine their health, make disastrous investments or career moves, or harm their marriages by uncritically accepting something they’ve read, heard, or viewed. The best safeguard against such misfortunes is to develop the habit of critical evaluation.



CRITICAL EVALUATION DEFINED
Critical evaluation* is active, thoughtful examination, as opposed to passive acceptance, of what you read, hear, and see. The standard of judgment in such evaluation is not how closely the author’s view matches your own, but whether it is accurate and reasonable. Consequently, those who evaluate messages critically are less vulnerable to deception and manipulation than other people. Our age is not the first to realize the importance of critical evaluation. Almost 400 years ago, Francis Bacon warned about the danger of reading improperly. He advised people not to dispute an author’s view nor to accept it uncritically, but to “weigh and consider” it. In the nineteenth century, British statesman Edmund Burke expressed the same view in more dramatic terms: “To read without reflection is like eating without digesting.” The following explanation by a twentieth-century scholar expands on this idea:

There is one key idea which contains, in itself, the very essence of effective reading, and on which the improvement of reading depends: Reading is reasoning. When you read properly, you are not merely assimilating. You are not automatically transferring into your head what your eyes pick up on the page. What you see on the page sets your mind at work, collating, criticizing, interpreting, questioning, comprehending, comparing. When this process goes on well, you read well....
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