One of the strengths of the Liberal Arts College where I taught was its capacity to develop critical thinking skills in its students. At the same time it stressed the importance of community development among its students. Certainly, both of these goals are admirable. However, I occasionally wondered if these two goals were compatible. Critical thinking skills enable one to see through the veneer or pretense of people’s actions and words, meanwhile community development demands trust as well as respect from its members. Doesn’t critical thinking corrupt the trust in the interpersonal relations? Doesn’t community bond function best when people do not question the face value of others’ actions and words? For instance, if A questions B’s words as sincere A no longer trusts B entirely. However, A hides its suspicion in order to associate smoothly with B – at least at a superficial level. Isn’t this a form of hypocrisy? Doesn’t hypocrisy corrupt community bond? This train of thought implies that community bonding may prosper best in an environment where no critical thinking is applied.
One might argue that critical thinking skills should be applied only to the actions and words of those in power. Then, the question becomes how to define power. Power is usually defined negatively as a repressive and oppressive force. But, according to Foucault, it is not necessarily always a negative force. He said: “What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression.” Power operates in most of human interactions in society. Then, once one learns how to think critically, one tends to apply critical thinking throughout one’s waking life. Does such an attitude contribute to developing a healthy community bond or even a healthy, authentic individual?