The essence of critical thinking requires questioning. A critical thinker must question everything he or she is told or believes and this includes even that which the person considers common sense. This last part is often the most difficult act. How can you question common sense? Common sense seems absolutely right after all.
One of the best examples I’ve found to explain why we need to question even that which we consider to be common sense is the famous case of U.S. Lieutenant Jeffrey N. Zaun. Shot down over the Persian Gulf War on January 18, 1991, Zaun became internationally known as a prisoner of war. Images of the bruised, bloated and beaten soldier were on every station’s evening news, covers of magazines, front pages of newspapers and virtually every media outlet. He was captured by Iraqi soldiers after being ejected from his plane. Zaun was then forced by the Iraqis to appear in a video making a statement against the war. Zaun said, “I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq.” The words were delivered in a monotone voice and it was clear to all who viewed the footage, those were not Zaun’s.
It was the image of the fallen soldier that really haunted us. When you see a beaten up prisoner of war, common sense tells you that those wounds were inflicted by his captors. Why would anyone question that? After being released from his six weeks in captivity, Zaun explained some of those wounds we saw were self-inflicted in the hopes that “he would be too ugly” to be filmed again. He even explained that that was part of his military training.
Zaun is truly a hero. He teaches us many things about honor, duty and service. Zaun also taught me to question images in a way I had never considered before.
With today’s prevalence of media, we often assume what we are seeing, reading and hearing has to be true. However, the face value of a situation can only be determined by critical thinking and analysis.