To Think or Not to Think – That is the Question

Thinking is good. Not thinking is bad. One would suppose that these two concepts are widely known and well-shared. Unfortunately, I am beginning to think that they are not. As I watch the world around me, I am beginning to come to the conclusion that in many circles, thinking is an action which is frowned upon and discouraged. 
Let me share a rhetorical question with you. How many of you have minds which are closed, locked, and shuttered, much like a home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina when there is a hurricane approaching from the south? I say rhetorical, because if your mind is closed, you will be unable to read my words, interpret my thoughts, and frame a reasonable response.
Let me suggest that thinking is an important of what you and I do each day. However, let me suggest that I am not referring to passive thinking. No, I am talking about the type of thinking which requires you to weigh and evaluate things. How good is 'A' versus its opposite 'B'? This type of thinking has long been referred to as critical thinking.
You need to understand that over time, a great deal of value has been placed on the lessons of the 'thinking' process which occurs within the world around us every day. Let me suggest to you the importance of thinking as it regards the solution of complex personal or professional issues. Those who fail to think often end up thinking about failure.
Through my many years as a teacher, writer, and consultant, problem solving and critical thinking have been important components of my work within the fire service. It has long been my thought that the ability to think effectively lies at the heart of every part of our lives. Let me ask you a really simple question. How can any of us plan and prepare for the future unless we are able to weigh and evaluate the varied wide range of alternatives which we are all going to be called upon to consider from time to time?
It is important at this point to make a comment on one element within our current pop culture approach to management. There are those who would long preferred to use the term 'thinking outside of the box', when in reality they are referring to the concept of critical thinking. The identification and analysis of new approaches is truly the meat and potatoes of critical thinking. 
It has been my experience that critical thinking can occur anytime a person works to judge, decide, or solve a problem. Many have been the times during my fire service career when I had to figure out what I should believe or what I should do in a given situation. Over time I came to understand that to succeed in this business of thinking, I had to do so in a reasonable and reflective way.
Let me suggest that over the years I have been exposed to the process which suggests that reading, writing, speaking, and listening can all be done in two distinctly different ways. You can be critical of the works you are reading or you can simply accept things as facts just because you read them in a book or in a magazine article. This failure to challenge what is being presented exposes you to the charge of thinking uncritically.
My professional associates and I believe that effective thinking is required if we are to becoming readers who pay attention to the words in front of them and challenges the thoughts they are being asked to accept. Over time, it has been my experience that in order to be an effective writer and communicator that I have had to challenge the norms of our field of professional endeavor. Let me stand on my written record as a guy who likes to shake things up.
Thinking is not a simple, random practice. You need to be able to utilize such tools as logic, either the formal type, or as is frequently the case, a more informal style of thinking (informal, but organized). In order to do this properly, you need to be trained to employ such broad intellectual skills as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, depth, and fairness.
Let me suggest that each of you must be able to analyze and evaluate a variety of information from a wide range of sources. Research has taught me that there is not one best way to do things. As the Bible states, there are many roads to the Master. Let me suggest that once you have mastered the ability to read, review, analyze, and then think, that you should then be able to create synthesize new and novel approaches to whatever it is you choose to accomplish.
It has long been my experience that there are a number of tasks which you and I must work to understand in order to be able to use them within our personal and professional lives. First and foremost you need to be able to recognize and identify problems. So much of what we do in life revolves around the identification and solving of problems that to ignore the development of these skills condemns us to a mediocre, mundane sort of existence.
Each of us must be able to challenge the societal norms in our daily lives. We must then work to identify new and better ways of doing things when appropriate. The ability to think helps us to understand how to prioritize these tasks which we must accomplish to solve a problem. In order to do this we need to develop skills in the areas of research and data acquisition.
The gathering and analysis of information forms the basis of our efforts. Without research there can be no learning. We need to look at what exists in order to determine what needs to be learned. If we are to think and write properly we need to know how to comprehend the current state of affairs in order to decide how to create new and unique combinations of information.
You must also begin to develop an understanding of the relationships which exists between and among various schools of thinking and human endeavor. Once you have developed he necessary critical thinking skills, you will be able to draw comparisons and make new assumptions which will assist you in the solution of unique problems. Let me suggest that as you become involved in the process of developing new and distinct thoughts on how to solve your problems, you may even discover that ten other people have developed ten different ways of solving the problem which has you stymied in the current instance. 
At this point you can broaden your experience through the testing of these unique solutions again your own. At this point it should be possible for you to draw new conclusions and create new generalizations which can advance the overall level of knowledge within your field. I have seem it stated that effective thinking processes involve a determined effort to examine any principle or supposed form of information in the light of the proof that supports it and the further conclusions to which it leads.
Let me now suggest to you that there are a number of things which you can do to improve your thinking processes. Let me recommend that you become the person who raises important inquiries and identifies current problems. Become known as the person who stimulates the thought process within your fire department by forming your questions clearly and precisely. You can learn a great deal by delivering probing questions.
In order to assist you in developing your skills let me offer the following which can be gained from a solid foundation within the world and education and knowledge gathering. It has been my experience that you will be better able to develop the requisite ability and skills so critical to gathering and assessing information. You need to learn how to use abstract ideas and interpret them effectively for your fire department associates.
If you have developed your thought processes correctly, you will become that one go-to-person in your group who can be counted upon to create and present well-reasoned solutions to your department's problems. People will come to recognize you as the person who possess the ability to think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing the available options as need be.
Let me suggest that you will be able to assist other folks by testing their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences. Be a sounding board. Become known as the person off of whom people can bounce their ideas and receive honest feedback. Let me now pause to offer my best wishes for you. Let me suggest that must learn how to think if you are to become the best possible fire service member that you can be. It is not easy, but it is well worth the effort.

Let me suggest that to ignore our mistakes is to court future failure.