« Back to Humane Connection

Thinking Critically About Our Beliefs

Written by Zoe Weil | 4 Comments | Published on August 17, 2015 | Filed under Humane Connection
The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Humane Education website at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2015/08/17/thinking-critically-beliefs/
Thank you for sharing

The Thinker statue

Image via FredrikRubensson/Flickr.

by Zoe Weil

Most of us know how important it is to think critically, and most of us probably think we’re decent critical thinkers.

Humane educators in particular pride ourselves on good critical thinking. After all, we seek out information that’s often hidden from view and search out connections between unjust and unsustainable systems in our effort to educate people to be solutionaries for a humane and regenerative world.

And yet, we all have our blind spots, and we are just as prone to “confirmation bias” as anyone else. Which is why it’s so important to develop and cultivate our critical thinking abilities. We can start by assessing a single belief we hold. Here’s one activity to help us do that:

Critical Thinking Self-Assessment Reflection

Sample beliefs held by some humane educators:

  • Nuclear power is too dangerous to be pursued and used.
  • GMOs cause ill health among people.
  • Local food is more sustainable than food transported from thousands of miles away.
  • Products labeled fair trade are always preferable because they cause less harm (e.g., I can feel good about buying products labeled fair trade).
  • A vegan diet is the best diet for human health.
  • Animal agriculture is the largest single contributor to global warming.
  • Problems in the world are getting worse.
  • While challenges abound, the world is getting better.
  • Capitalism is inherently unjust and causes harm.
  • Globalization hurts the poor.
  • It takes hundreds to thousands of gallons of water to produce a pound of meat or milk but less than 50 to produce a pound of most fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Choose a belief you hold (it could be one of the above but doesn’t need to be) and answer the following questions as honestly and thoughtfully as you are able:

My belief: ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

1.  Why do I believe this?

2.  What’s the evidence for my belief?

3.  What direct research (e.g., scientific analysis, field work, primary source investigation) have I conducted to ascertain the validity of my belief?

4.  How would I feel if I my belief were disproven?

5.  How deeply connected to my identity is this belief?

6.  What are some alternative views?


After completing this exercise, reflect on the process by answering these additional questions:

7.  What would it take to truly substantiate my belief?

8.  What have I learned about myself and my beliefs from answering these questions?

9.  What would it take to become a better critical thinker?

10. How might I help others to become better critical thinkers?

Categories: Humane Connection

Tags: / / / / / / / / / /

About Zoe Weil

Zoe is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education She's the author of several books, including Most Good, Least Harm; Above All, Be Kind; and The Power and Promise of Humane Education. See her TEDx talk, "The World Becomes What You Teach": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5HEV96dIuY

Contact Zoe View all articles by Zoe Weil


Very useful critical thinking assessment, Zoe. I think this can be useful with some of my students. Critical thinking is a tough challenge, especially #3, which involves finding evidence (beyond just opinions) to support the beliefs.

Wondering your thoughts on a possible #11, something along the lines of, “As a result of this process, what will you do to realize this in practice? Why or why not?” I love thinking for its own sake, though constantly seek to find ways to use that to improve our world in practice.

Zoe Weil says:

I love your question #11! Thank you for that. Please let me know how this works with your students.

Now that is a challenge, bringing something that can at first seem to be theoretical, into practice. However, this is something that those of us who focus on education and learning try to do — we learn something and then we try to find a way to operationalize what we learned. Using scenarios, case studies, and discussions to try to flesh out concrete next steps (and getting agreement to try one thing new after the learning event) are all strategies to help with this.

Alas, the challenge, and this is beyond the scope of these 10 or 11 steps, is how to change the (personal) status quo. Even when we learn something new and decide we want to change our lives through altering our practices, it is so enticing to fall back into doing what we have always done. This is especially troublesome when it happens and we do not like it . . . but it is familiar.

Zoe Weil says:

Exactly. And what else shall we do but try :)