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How to Build Your Judgment and Critical Thinking

Blessed are the critical thinkers: for they help us understand and find truth.

Key points

  • Each person has the strength of judgment they can tap into.
  • A critical thinking blessing is one practical strategy you can use for building this strength.
  • Observing the processes of good critical thinkers can help you enhance this strength.
Ismagilov/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Source: Ismagilov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Us vs. them. In-group vs. out-group. Good guys vs. bad guys. Polarization is at an all-time high. What might be an antidote?

One step in the right direction is to increase our character strength of judgment, also called critical thinking. This strength is about the pursuit of truth. It reminds us that truth is not found in impressions, stereotypes, quick glances, and preconceived notions. It is found with a persevering and always-evolving process of reflection, introspection, analysis, and open-mindedness to other views. It is found not by flipping on a political news program but by flipping on your thinking in new ways. It is found not by surfing through social media headlines but by looking for exceptions to your existing views.

How can we build this character strength? One strategy is to observe, study, and learn from those who express the strength well. What does an exemplar of critical thinking say about this strength? How do they act? Let’s find out.

Davis, an accomplished musician and decorated police chief, was a master critical thinker. He has been known throughout his community for his logic and good judgment. He has loved looking at every detail of a situation, especially his beliefs about things. He has been analytical about anything potentially controversial such as spirituality, politics, family life, and personal problems. He doesn't take his beliefs about things for granted. Rather, he goes deeper. He has sought out universal truths (and never took those for granted either).

When interviewed about his critical thinking, Davis offered several insights and practical strategies for appreciating and building this strength.

You are known as a great critical thinker. How do you use this strength of character?

When I am faced with a dilemma or controversy, I ask myself several questions:

  • How is my belief or what I’m thinking about now not true?
  • What are the exceptions to my belief?
  • What would someone from a different culture or lived experience say about my ideas?
  • What am I missing, forgetting, or not including?
  • If I wouldn’t stake my life on my conclusion or my belief, what part of it makes me most hesitant?
  • If I was to become just a little bit more accurate or get a bit more detail on the situation, what would it be?

Wow, you really have a solid approach of “drilling down” to get to the core of that which is most essential.

I think of it like I am peeling layers of veneer in my mind. I try to peel away my first impression and I peel away my biases such as the automatic tendency to look for support for my beliefs. I peel away the layer of expectations I have of society. I peel away my automatic reactions to please or to impress others. I just keep going in the pursuit of a greater truth. Then, I remind myself that that greater truth I find is not perfect and absolute and finished, but it is better than what I started with.

Judgment or critical thinking is the ultimate “mind strength.” Doesn’t that mean you get lost in your head and miss the heart?

I see the mind and heart as one. They are completely interconnected. Each offers a different lens or starting point. A good critical thinker sees and experiences both of these lenses and others. My typical approach is to start with the analyses I mentioned to get past the multitude of biases I am subject to. I know that when I get closer to a truth I am touching my heart. I can feel it in my chest. Some people do this process in reverse and start with the heart. Each person makes their own decision on what’s best for them.

Spoken like a true critical thinker. Who takes the reverse process? Can you offer an example?

Actually, I do. As a critical thinker, I don’t want to get locked into one approach. It behooves me to be open to different analyses and ways of interacting. For example, when a person is very locked into a particular way of thinking that I perceive to be unhealthy or have negative consequences, my first step is to “appeal to their heart.” I empathize with them; I show them understanding, even though I may not agree with them. I can always offer that gift of understanding. I might also share with them how their views do not seem to align with their values. From there, my critical thinking helps me provide details and logical reasons for the misalignment I perceive. Still, I maintain an open-mindedness to be wrong, to be challenged, to be corrected.

What you are describing seems to have implications that go far beyond you and the people you interact with. How would you describe the potential of your approach?

I think of the pursuit of truth as very spiritual. A universal truth provides connection and sustenance between people. It reaches and expresses our common humanity. This is of great importance to philosophers, proponents of religion, and people across nations. When a truth is identified, there is greater acceptance within a divided group and across groups. This reminds us of some of the spiritual truths of the human condition that we are more alike than different, genetically speaking 99.9 percent the same, and also that all of us on the planet are all in this together.

Getting Practical: Use the Critical Thinking Blessing

You can use the critical thinking-judgment beatitude, "Blessed are the critical thinkers: for they help us understand and find truth" (Niemiec, 2021), to appreciate the depth of this strength of critical thinking-judgment in yourself and in others.

  • In yourself: In what situations has this beatitude been a reality for you?
  • In others: Identify someone in your life who is high in critical thinking-judgment. Explain to them how you have benefitted from observing and experiencing this strength from them.


This article is part of an exclusive blog series on the 24 character strengths blessings/beatitudes. See the new, scientific article, called Character Strengths Beatitudes: A Secular Application of Ancient Wisdom to Appreciate Strengths for Spiritual Happiness and Spiritual Growth (Niemiec, 2021), published in the journal Religions.

Judgment/critical thinking is one of 24 universal character strengths found across countries, cultures, and beliefs, as uncovered by modern-day scientists.

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