Negating negativity: thinking critically about critical thinking

In the name of “critical thinking,” I have noticed a tendency in the West for intellectuals to become not only reflective and deconstructive, but to frequently live in mentally aggressive/hostile, cynical, pessimistic, etc. states of mind. Although I would agree that being overly positive can bias one in various ways (e.g., to see only what you want to see and miss/ignore challenges, obstacles, etc.), being overly negative can bias one in opposite ways (e.g., to see only obstacles or challenges and miss/ignore what might be possible). So I think it is important to turn critical thinking against itself, and to be critical of becoming too negative of a person. To me, the main value of critical thinking is to acknowledge and let go of biases and assumptions, to become mentally detached and aware, to try to see and think clearly. Mental detachment is perhaps the primary activity/aspect of mindfulness meditation, as is awareness of vipassana meditation.

Equanimity

Pursuing either positivity (enjoyment, pleasure, luxury, etc.) or negativity (anger, punishment, vengeance, etc.) causes struggle and stress. Both are very unstable. Neutrality (contentment, balance, selflessness, etc.) seems to be the least stressful, most stable path.

Two kinds of happiness

I know of two types of happiness: contentment (calm, peace, clarity, balance, equanimity, neutrality, etc.) and joy (excitement, pleasure, arousal, intoxication, extremity, etc.). Most mainstream cultures seem to seek joy, however unstable, impermanent, or destructive it may be. Buddhism seems to seek a stable, permanent, harmless contentment.

Automatic hate

When you see someone who is different than you or antagonistic towards you, do negative (critical, exploitative, dismissive, aggressive, etc.) thoughts/feelings automatically arise in your mind? When you sleep, do dark dreams arise? Do you feel urges to go watch aggressive TV shows or to listen to angry or depressive music?

That is the unconscious level at which people need to work on becoming better — more kind, compassionate, patient, tolerant, peaceful, content, etc. — because today’s conscious thought-choices plant the seeds for tomorrow’s unconscious feelings, and conscious thoughts, words, and deeds often take their cues from unconscious whispers. It’s a cycle. We need to keep a good tone to our minds.

If your mind were your living room, how would that room’s mood feel, and who/what would be welcome there?