The difference between being critical and using critical thinking skills is an important one to master in order to be successful in academia as well as life. However, the difference isn’t always easy for students of any age to master. Even the dictionary acknowledges that there are many different meanings for the word critical. According to dictionary.com, being critical means “inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily”. However, critical thinking is “involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.”. But what does that mean?
Well, being critical, according to the first definition, means that you’re dismissive. “Twilight is the worst book ever written,” someone who is critical might declare, disdainfully. However, a critical thinker might ask “Why is Twilight the worst book ever written? What exactly is the difference between a good book and a bad book? What criteria are we using to make these kinds of judgment calls?” In academia, and in life, people don’t want to be around those are being critical in the first definition. People who are prone to being critical tend to make all-or-nothing judgment calls that don’t really allow for discussion or debate. “Well,” you might say to someone who is being critical, “I think that Twilight is good because it gets a lot of young adults interested in reading, and hopefully that will engage them in other literature. How can that be all bad, then?” A person who is being critical will simply respond that they still think Twilight is the worst book ever written.
Finding the difference between the definitions of being critical is a long and arduous process, with a lot of trial and error. The more education I’ve received, the more I’ve begun to move away from being critical to being a critical thinker. Meting out judgments means being educated about both sides of an issue, whereas being critical involves maybe only one side of an issue: your own. Sometimes, critical thinking doesn’t lead to an absolute truth or even a concrete idea. In many of my best papers, my conclusions have been wide-open and up for interpretation. It isn’t always comfortable being a critical thinker, but it will certainly make you a more well-rounded, likable person.