Sustainable development requires an empirical means for understanding its complex relationships. Such devices as symbolism help create a certain mindset appropriate for sustainable development problem-solving. But sustainable development also requires systemic methodologies for assessment and analysis. Critical thinking and creative action implementation are two such methodologies that are invaluable to the seasoned practitioner.
Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality and objectivity in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally and sympathetically. Critical thinking in the context of sustainable development has been described as the artful questioning of the assumptions we make about community. Bob Gibson stated that in a much more comprehensive sense this concept has been characterized as the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
Critical thinkers are keenly aware of the inherent tendency of human thinking toward bias when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the influence of their egocentric and socio-centric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and reduce bias. They work diligently to develop the rational virtues of intellectual integrity, humility, civility, empathy, sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and that they like all of us are prone to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.
In the context of sustainable development the application of critical thinking allows us to better assess factual information about how the natural world functions and better visualize the relative position of humans in this more objective perception of the natural world. With this more realistic perspective critical thinkers strive to improve the world with more efficient strategies and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the not insignificant complexities in doing so. They avoid thinking simplistically about complicated issues and strive to consider the rights and needs of others. They recognize the hard work in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement.
Critical thinking commits the practitioner of sustainable development to perfecting the skills to help analyze and evaluate the validity of information and ideas from both experts and community stakeholders. Importantly, critical thinking allows one to distinguish between facts and opinions – detecting baloney! Critical thinking expects the practitioner to:
- Be open-minded and flexible;
- Try to identify and assess the assumptions and beliefs of those presenting evidence and drawing conclusions;
- Expect and tolerate uncertainty;
- Develop principles or rules for evaluating evidence; and
- Recognize that there might be trade-offs involved in making and implementing multi-sectoral decisions.
Prior to initiating sustainability actions, conclusions must be based on sound science and genuine understanding should be reached only through critical thinking to evaluate different ideas and to fully understand the trade-offs involved.
In a systemic approach to sustainable community development the active and democratic participation of community members, should be promoted in a willingness to imagine or remain open to considering alternative perspectives of the public. More times than not community consultation proves that the public-way-of-knowing is as important to progress as the expert-way-of-knowing and often reveals overlooked critical information. In applying critical thinking to consultation the practitioner naturally shows more willingness to integrate new or revised perspectives based on a group’s ways of thinking and acting. This leaves the door open for creative action that leap frogs the often unsuccessful traditional approaches to development and provides the opportunity for increased community buy-in to the decisions made.
Parallel to the idea of critical thinking is the act of synthetic thinking. Synthetic thinking stresses the importance of a systems approach to multi-sector elements of sustainability and fits nicely within the context of critical thinking by stressing integration of different sectoral characteristics to aid the critical and creative processes. Synthetic thinking promotes the ability to recognize relationships among environmental, social, and economic problems and advances the ability to integrate these different sectoral issues in problem-solving. Synthetic thinking will also help you to apply your knowledge to dealing with new and different problems, by being able to think outside the box.
The problems that face Belize in the future toward moving to sustainable development most often do not involve a single environmental issue but rather multiple issues, such as mangrove swamp protection and barrier reef resiliency. Likewise problems being faced will most likely cross disciplinary boundaries of ecology, economics and societal well-being. In these problem-solving areas and the development of solutions critical thinking will be the key to designing solutions and implementing these solutions.
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Mayan Way of Knowing
Mayan Way of Knowing