Have we lost our ability to think critically?

January 14, 2021


That’s how I feel most days. It’s not a brave thing to say, nor is it a unique sentiment. My staff feels it, as do many of our clients. There is a collective sense of overwhelm that permeates our current cultural moment. A kind of anxiety undergirds every interaction of our ordinary days that internally proclaims: “I am overwhelmed!” Or morphs into a melancholy numbness that leaves us unsure of how to answer, “How are you?” 

And, it’s no wonder, right? We’re faced with constant media coverage of a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social strife. Yet, everyday life must continue. My kids return to the classroom this month – after quarantining for nearly two-weeks post-Christmas. We have meetings to schedule. We’re inundated with emails and notifications. We have meals to prepare and pick up. But, we need to cope, right? 

There are two main options. 

man obsess cell phone

1. Obsess 

We’re talking about panic. It’s so easy to give yourself over to the feeling of being overwhelmed. Read every single news update on your phone. Google the latest stats of coronavirus deaths in your state when you have a break at work. Pick fights with people on Facebook who share memes that are offensive to your beliefs. Berate local organizations for their imperfect efforts to help the community. Shame anyone who disagrees with you in the comment section on a public service announcement. Share your WebMD certified medical knowledge and your feelings about personal anecdotes to justify your political stance on wearing a mask or not. Literally, any of those actions can turn into obsessive panic. 

ostrich, head in the sand
2. Ignore 

Pretend everything will be fine, and others will take care of it. Place your head in the sand. Don’t engage on social media. Avoid all conversations about this difficult subject matter. Assume that accusations about racial injustice don’t apply to you. Go about your days. Share marketing and communications efforts that reflect your January 2021 intentions. Don’t adjust your business practices to meet the current needs. Don’t wear a mask when you buy your groceries. 

Alright, you’ve got two extreme choices. Pick your poison. 

How have we become so limited in our thinking?

We live in a time of unbelievable technological connection and discovery. We have unprecedented resources and access to information. But, there is a price. 

We are what we consume. We are very much affected by what we scroll (or doomscroll) through each day. And, because of that, we want those around us to react as we do. To cope as we do. To fall in line with the hyperbolic representation of our chosen political party.

But, I think now is the time for us to accept some responsibility. We cannot simply obsess or ignore. We have to engage with what is going on and focus on the realities of everyday life. It’s not one or the other. 

Have we collectively lost our ability to think critically? Has our relationship with technology and social media reduced our capacity to meaningfully engage with those whom we disagree? 

I don’t have the answers. 

I do think we need to sit in the tension between obsession and ignorance and engage where we can only after thinking about what we want to contribute and why our contribution is valuable. 

We live in 2021, don’t we?

We do not live in a perfect world, but we have to acknowledge that we benefit from unprecedented access to information built on decades of incredible progress. There is so much to be thankful for and too much to take for granted. 

We do not have the right to be so alarmist or defeatist. We do not have the right to lose hope and swim in this perpetual cycle of negativity.

Humanity is resilient. Progress may be imperfect, but the ability to improve still exists. Look at the last 100 years to see the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that humanity has overcome. 

We must remember that it is only through discomfort and trial that we can grow. 


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