Dr Roy van den Brink-Budgen, is an Expert in the field of Critical Thinking with considerable international business and academic experience and a friend of #ASM

I have been working in the field of critical thinking for 30 years. This work has been with students (from primary to postgraduate), teachers, businesses, and charities, both in the UK and in many other countries.

So, I’m very familiar with the obvious question: ‘What is critical thinking?’ Is it being critical of the way others think? It can be, but doesn’t have to be. To put it in a nutshell, critical thinking is centrally concerned with looking at (or for) the possible significance of claims. Claims can be evidence (‘55% of people say…’), recommendations (‘we should do…’), predictions (‘if we carry on like this…’), principles (‘we should always do…’), and definitions (‘fairness means…’). When we engage our critical thinking, we ask lots of questions: ‘What might this mean?’ ‘How can we explain it?’ ‘What else do we need to know?’ and, fundamentally (with evidence), ‘Is this true?’

Here’s an example. Before Donald Trump, five out of the past seven US Presidents had been left-handed. So, does this have a significance? Of course, you might say that this is no more than coincidence. And you might be right. But, of course, being a critical thinker, you’re not satisfied with that answer. What else do we need to know? Is this the case with any other country? (No) Is there a pattern behind the pattern that we should look for? (Possibly)

Another example of where critical thinking operates is looking at what reasons are given for a given claim: ‘Because of x and y, we should do z.’ Are these good reasons? Are there counter-reasons why we should not do z? (Of course, the central question here is ‘what is a good reason?’)
When I look at the process of mediation, I can see that we have critical thinking in action. The process seeks clarification by asking questions, whose answers can take things forward. It deals with alternatives: ‘perhaps it’s this, but perhaps it’s that’. It encourages possibility thinking: ‘What are other ways of looking at this?’ It also encourages hypothetical thinking: ‘If we do x, then y could follow’ (so is this what we might want?).

Critical thinking isn’t restricted to examining what others say: ‘You can’t say that, because…’. It should also get us to reflect upon our own thinking: ‘Can I really use that as a reason for saying that?’ This self-reflective aspect can work very powerfully in mediation, by requiring us to carefully justify our own positions.

I very much look forward to being associated with Albert Square Mediation. It’s an example in which critical thinking very much earns its keep out in the world.