How do you know when the “wool is being pulled over your eyes?” There is SO much disinformation out there, especially on the internet, many of us simply throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know!” In some cases, that is all we can do. But in other cases, we can’t give up that easily because it will leave us vulnerable to being deceived. Knowing how to think critically will empower you to make choices that will ensure your safety and well being.
- Logic and good arguments are what the “good guys” use to defend their position.
- Rhetoric and psychology are techniques used by the “bad guys” (advertisers and politicians) who are trying to get you to believe their position without good cause.
Rhetoric is the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech. It’s language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on you but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content. Rhetorical techniques often rely on forms of repetition (e.g., if I tell you this over and over and over again, you may start to believe it), and manipulative language (i.e., your freedoms are being taken away!). Questions are also used to have the audience answer in their heads what they know already to be true, or putting names to things you already know. Rhetoric is all around us in movies, in advertisements and books, in body language, conversation and in art.
Persuasion, however, can be used as a tool in a critical thinker’s toolkit. This is using logic and good reasoning skills:
- Who are you trying to persuade? What do they bring to the table in terms of background beliefs and values? Why do they care about the issue? What is at stake in the argument? These are all psychological and social factors. You need to try to see the issue through your intended audience. You need to tap into what they care about and what motivates them, or you may never to able to get them to understand your point of view.
- You need to give examples in real-world context to able to get the other person to understand your argument. Even if it’s simply sitting at the dinner table trying to get your teenager to not attend that party “everyone’s going to” because you know underage drinking is going to be happening at this event. It’s not wise to simply put your foot down and demand they stay home Saturday night! You want them to see your side and come to their own conclusion that your point of view is reasonable and they should consider changing their minds. You want to be an influencer, not a dictator.
Finally, check your sources. There is so much mis-information out there and it’s easy to get caught spreading some of it yourself via the internet. Check out wild claims via snopes.com, or look at the website and see if it’s a site that has proven trustworthy over the years for providing reliable information.
These are just a few tools to learn how to defend ourselves against falsities. We can use this knowledge and tools to empower ourselves as influencers and impact the culture for truth.