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Both Canada and the US are involved in election campaigns. Today’s politicians work hard to convince the electorate that their ideas and platforms are the best for the country. They use a mix of positive and negative tactics that can simplify complex issues yet end up confusing individual citizens. A participant in my Critical Thinking training and development workshop expressed the hope that the course would help her to decide how to vote. This made me think about what is involved in making the decision that is the most informed and best choice for each of us. Many of us have already formed allegiances – others are deeply undecided. So where do we start in the decision process?

  1. The place to start is to simply ask the question “How does each platform “hit” me?  What is your first gut reaction? What seems, without thinking, the best course of action to your heart?
  2. The next step is to ask why. To question why we had that reaction. Our values are a driving force in how we respond to ideas and experiences and it’s important to examine all sides of what we value in the world.  What are our values?  Is equality important?  Is individual freedom of choice and action central or is equality and community in our value system? This clarification is helpful and will inform our own perspective and also help us understand our preferences?
  3. The next step in critical thinking is to question what assumptions we have that affect how we use these values. Assumptions lead us to make judgements about such issues as taxes, the role of government in the economy, education, healthcare and environmental regulation? “Assumptions are the seemingly self-evident rules about reality that we use to seek explanations, make judgments or decide on various actions.  They are the unquestioned givens that, to us, have the status of self-evident truths. (Stephen Brookfield, 1987)”  
  4. Since assumptions are sometimes true and sometimes not true, they need to be challenged. Are there facts to support our assumptions? What facts do not support our assumptions? Are the facts, measureable or are they opinions and beliefs? We have to ask the question” What do we know for sure?”  Then we can know if our assumptions are accurate?  For example, does a “tough on crime” agenda really reduce crime rates or not?
  5. When we have run our “ favourite” platforms through this critical thinking training and development process we can consider other platforms or issues. What values are these platforms based on? What assumptions are driving their perspective?  Are their assumptions valid?  What questions can we ask that will challenge these assumptions effectively?

This process may or may not change your initial gut reaction or perspective but will ensure that the choice you make on election day is informed and defensible because it is based on critical thinking rather than emotion. And that is something you can trust — even if you can’t trust a politician.