The Importance of Critical Thinking

21 February, 2012
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Critical Thinking in Emergency Situations

It’s said so often as to be a cliché that the most potent emergency tool one has is a good brain. But like many clichés, it’s said so often because there’s so much truth in it. If it were up to me in a disaster I’d rather be partnered up with one person that has good, critical thinking skills and a “survival mindset” than a dozen mindless drones with loads of gear they don’t understand. Creativity and problem-solving skills, coupled with even the most rudimentary survival knowledge, is worth its weight in gold when one gets into trouble. There were two examples that came up recently that I felt demonstrated both good and bad cases of critical survival thinking.

Snowboarder digs snow cave to survive night at Mount Baker

A snow boarder from the Czech Republic was visiting Mount Baker in Washington state. After becoming lost and realizing that he wouldn’t be getting out that night, he made a simple snow shelter to protect him from the elements. The next day, he was able to find his way back to the ski area and was picked up by ski patrols. He had no tools or massive emergency kit with him and in a pretty unforgiving climate, but was able to improvise a suitable shelter and make his way back to safety. He didn’t continue to wander around in the dark hoping salvation was just over the next hill.

Contrast that with this story:

Texas Woman Stranded In Car In Idaho Dairy Pond For Nearly Week

Back in late January, a woman in Idaho went off the road and got her car stuck in a small pond. She was within a short walk of several houses, but stayed in her car for several days because she’d been told “not to leave her vehicle if she became stranded.” She survived off of some M&Ms she had in the car and water from around the vehicle. She could have resolved this situation right from the get-go, but because she couldn’t thinking “outside the box” she put her life at serious risk.

Now, of course, in both stories there’s more than meets the eye. The woman in question was, not decrepit, but definitely a senior citizen and January in Idaho can be more than a little chilly. The snow boarder was only lost because he stupidly left the marked trail areas. But there in, in a way, lies the point: no piece of generic advice is going to be universally applicable to every scenario. It’s up to YOU to be a good critical thinker and apply what knowledge you have to the best effect.

The problem comes when people are unable to take in new information and rationally judge their circumstances. They fall back on memorized axioms, and in lieu of a meaningful alternative, follow these dogmatic stances to their ultimate misfortune without ever understanding why. I really believe that one will live a far richer life if you strive to understand *why* you do something a given way, not just *how*.

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