Humanist EDge: How Humanists Make Decisions

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Celebrate World Humanist Day (June 21) throughout June with us by exploring the Ten Commitments of Humanist Living. We start with Critical Thinking and Ethical Development.

Without a sacred text, God, or potential afterlife, humanists must rely on ourselves to make sense of the universe and figure out how to live each day. We do so with Critical Thinking, by analyzing facts to form judgments, and with Ethical Development, through evaluating our personal choices. Both help us more fully comprehend life and how we can improve it for ourselves and others.

As the Humanist Manifesto III proclaims:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Thinking critically allows us to process all the information we receive and reason our way to good judgments and effective solutions, instead of making assumptions, rationalizing, or misrepresenting opinions as fact. It’s an important skill that requires continued attention and practice. In scientific terms, the process includes hypothesizing, experimenting, and concluding. Exercising our minds in this way enables us to challenge biases in ourselves and others, paving the way for a more fair, open-minded, and autonomous perspective that fosters a multicultural worldview.

One essential aspect of critical thinking is asking questionslike who, what, when, where, why, and how—to gather more insight and evaluate different ideas. This doesn’t mean that critical thinkers need to critique or ruthlessly question everything. We can remain respectful with our inquiries by being mindful of who we are addressing, what we are saying, where the dialogue is occurring (i.e., public vs private, online vs in-person), and how our questions are delivered (i.e., tone, intent vs impact). We should also consider when it’s better to research answers on our own instead of confronting people with questions. Listening is just as, if not more, important as speaking.

Children love asking “why” several times in a row, both to absorb information and to test their boundaries. Many adults find it stressful to have the right answer but it is most important that we help them find and analyze information for themselves. Not only does it relieve pressure on us to know everything, but it empowers them to recognize their ability to learn with or without us and become resourceful individuals. It also inspires them to do the same for others.

As we mature, we learn that there isn’t always a clear right or wrong answer when we contemplate various factors and consequences. For example, the Golden Rule advises people to treat others as they want to be treated, but that doesn’t consider a vast array of different experiences, wants, and needs. Ethical development is a never-ending process that requires constant reflection and evaluation of our personal choices and the consequences they have on others and our environment. Fairness, cooperation, and sharing are among the first moral issues we encounter in our childhood and are often embraced intuitively. As we develop, we gather knowledge and practices that help us handle new moral dilemmas that may cause us to adapt our thinking and decisions.

Each day brings new information to absorb, ideas to ponder, decisions to make, and actions to take. While we are responsible for ourselves, we must also understand how much impact we have on others and the world around us, so each day we must make a conscious effort to do good.