Thinking critically about critical thinking (or, down the rabbit hole)

One of the things I’ve been considering lately – other than why my spacebar keeps sticking – is the role of critical thinking, and reflexive thinking, in my reading and in the development of my methodology. For me, the two are intertwined in ways that mean I can’t completely separate the two; when I read something critically, my views and understandings are always influenced by what I want to get out of that piece, as well as by who I am – my understandings, experiences, and biases.

What I’m finding though, is that the more reading critically/reflexively becomes a practice in my studies, the more it becomes a habit in the rest of my life; reflexivity is becoming a reflex itself. For example, G and I have started watching Friday Night Lights – an engaging if not overly cerebral drama based on a film (in turn based on a non-fiction book of the same name) following a small town and a high school American football team. I’m enjoying it, even if I have barely grasped the basics of American football (I’m hampered by my inability to stop chortling over “tight end”); at the same time, I’m finding myself interested Street’s storyline.

Street is – and spoilers ahead – or rather was the star quarterback of the team; he has a close relationship with the coach, and is cast as the kid who has it all – he’s town hero, he’s likeable, he has a “hot” cheerleader girlfriend, it’s assumed he’ll get a sports scholarship to a college, where he will play football, then be signed by an NFL team and turn pro. Street’s life – and by extent, the whole town’s – is disrupted when he is injured in a match, leaving him paralysed. The treatment of Street’s disability is where the critical thinking really kicked in for me; Street asks about sex – and his rehabilitation center roommate, Herc, answers honestly and hilariously. Herc’s masculinity is firmly in place – one of his first lines is aggressively hetero, and disablist, and he’s set up as antagonistic from the get-go;

“Hey when you’re done putting the newbie into that gay wheelchair, let me know…I don’t mean gay as in ‘homosexual’, I mean gay as in ‘retarded’.”

Herc isn’t a nice character when he enters. He’s an arsehole, and he remains an arsehole, even when he quickly becomes the arsehole-with-a-heart by being the one who gets Street into murderball and berates him into not “giving up” – but he isn’t, at least in the first ten episodes – an inspirational supercrip; he’s too aggressive, too flawed and unrehabilitated for that. He’s not the compliant crip body – he’s loud, and sexist, and manly, and Street is encouraged to take him as a model.

Then I’m wondering if the actor playing Herc is disabled, and a quick look on IMDB confirms that he isn’t, and I’m thinking about how disabled actors are rarely cast in mainstream shows, playing disabled characters, and why I find that so irritating.

But I’m getting this while watching TV. After I’ve put my books away and made a conscious choice to walk away from work. And I’m left reflecting on why it’s become something I reflect on.

Another example here – and this is personal, so bear with me. I have fibromyalgia, and in the course of looking for ways to manage it, I’ve started a course of mindfulness meditation to go along with the antidepressants and painkillers. Friday was the first day, and so I’m lying on the floor of the room with several other people, on a yoga mat, questioning why I didn’t get a pillow or choose to do this nonsense sitting up, listening to the counsellor talk us through the body scan (which is, basically, lying – or however you’re most comfortable – and focusing your attention on different parts of your body while controlling your breathing).

And I’m thinking critically about it. About why I’ve been silent in the group so far – in the first instance, because after one person said the raisin we were supposed to be eating mindfully said it made her think of a brain, when it made me think of a clitoris, and because I didn’t want to discuss my decision to do the 5:2 diet in why I didn’t eat the raisin – and then about the counsellor’s word choices; why this has been called the Body Scan rather than Savansana, why she says genital region instead of any other word choice, and then why my brain is so busy with that I’ve entirely forgotten which body part I’m supposed to be infusing with awareness. To be honest, it was awesome and I felt wonderfully relaxed, despite all of this.

But I’m not sure thinking critically is part of the process – perhaps reflexivity is, but the overall aim seems to be about acknowledging and letting go of reactions and feelings, rather than picking them apart before flattening them with Foucault. Because I did start to think about the role of counselling and power and rehabilitation – probably because I’ve been reading around those issues, so they’re on the brain. I got so busy thinking about that, I didn’t pay half as much attention to what the other group members were saying.

Nonetheless, here I am, thinking critically about my own silence, and reflecting on my own reflexivity. It’s become a habit, and I’m pretty ok with that – perhaps it shows that I’m taking on board at least some of what I’m reading. Perhaps I’m becoming more accepting that these tangents might actually be helping, provided they don’t let me get too distracted from what I should be doing.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go lie on the floor with the dog and think about my big toe.

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