Beginning Again

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“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

          —Plato

“Great beginnings are not as important as the way one finishes.”

          —James Dobson

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

          —T. S. Eliot

“No matter how hard the past is, you can always begin again.”

         —Buddha

“Take the first step in faith.. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” 

         —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough.”

          —Mark Twain

 

Let’s start the new year with an argument! Plato and Dobbs seem to be at odds with each other about whether beginnings or endings are more important, followed by Eliot’s effort to draw a circle around everything, the Buddha’s optimism, and MLK’s echo of the Chinese proverb, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” And then there’s Twain’s summation of it all (which seems appropriate for this time of year).

I lean heavily toward Plato’s view over Dobson’s. Much like the quality of the questions we ask, the beginning is going to have a huge impact on where we wind up; on the other hand, none of that matters if you can’t make a finish. The seeds of our failures are frequently to be found in our beginnings, and the Cult of Perfection can keep us from finishing at times when simply ‘good’ is good enough.

Planning and prioritizing. Two invaluable skills people try to avoid because they think those things take a lot of time and effort, but a few minutes spent exercising those skills brings a big pay-off and helps us find a direction. Ask: What’s the most important thing here, and how am I going to make it happen? This helps give you a sense of knowing where you are going even though the path may have some twists and turns..

I seem to read more and more commentary every day bewailing the general lack of Americans’ critical thinking skills. These skills are seldom taught in public schools anymore, and the private schools don’t do much better. Even college has given short shrift to this kind of competency until recently, and many colleges now believe the entering freshmen need extensive remediation, assigning required classes to teach them the skills they did not learn in high school.

The decision-making process can be crippled by confusion over real vs fake, failure to identify bogus arguments, or not recognizing the differences between good reasons and bad ones.

Often, President Trump is cited as the reason we need to teach critical thinking skills, with the concomitant idea that most Americans are not prepared to withstand the propaganda onslaught emanating from Trump’s White House. With those issues in mind, the Butcher Block is recommitting to its mission bringing critical thinking skills to a wider audience. Trump and his cronies put forward so many examples of manipulative techniques that we’ll spend a good bit of time analyzing his “arguments” but rest assured that the Block is an equal opportunity deprecator. We are diligently hunting down dangerously sloppy or manipulative thinking anywhere we can find it.

Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.

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