Jim Roth’s Website
The quality of our lives in large part depends upon the quality of our decisions, and the quality of our decisions in large part depends upon the process we use to decide. Consider using the “Holes in the Hedge” process when important decisions are at hand.
Critical thinking is a way of examining an issue from as many points of view as necessary to appreciate its complexity. Critical thinking’s goal is to improve our lives by giving us the quality and quantity of information needed to shape informed opinions and make constructive decisions.
The “Holes in the Hedge” Analogy
Imagine that not too far from our neighborhood is a huge two-block-square enclosure surrounded by a high, thick, green hedge. Because of the hedge’s size, we cannot see what’s inside the two-block enclosure, though we have heard all sorts of rumors.
One morning our curiosity gets the best of us. We head out to our garage, grab our pruning shears, and make our way to the mystery enclosure. Once we arrive, we find we only have time to cut one hole in the hedge, just wide enough to see through.
After a few minutes of clipping, we have our viewing hole.
Because of the thickness of the hedge walls, we can see straight ahead through the hole but not to either side. We take a look and see only a lawn mower and a rake lying against a shed wall in the distance.
If we walk away at this point convinced that the entire enclosure is full of only gardening tools, we have failed as critical thinkers.
Fortunately for us, we continue to be curious, so the next morning we repeat the process, this time cutting a hole a little farther along the hedge.
Through this new viewing hole, we are able to see the side of a swimming pool and crystal-clear water under a diving board.
If we walk away after this second view convinced that the entire enclosure contains only gardening tools and a swimming pool, we have again failed as critical thinkers because a great deal of the enclosure is still hidden from us.
To move our example along, let’s assume we continue each morning to cut more viewing holes in the hedge until we can view the entire enclosure through the holes we have cut. Only then will we have a trustworthy sense of what lies within the enclosure.
Any assumption of what the enclosure holds before we have looked through all the necessary holes would deny the complexity of the enclosure and reflect thinking that is superficial, incomplete, and untrustworthy (NON-critical).
Now let’s apply our Holes in the Hedge Analogy to critical thinking:
We put an issue inside the hedge and then cut as many viewing holes or perspectives as we need to see it completely. In this case, viewing holes are perspectives or points of view.
Here’s an example:
Let’s take the disease AIDS and put it in the enclosure.
Some viewing holes or perspectives we would cut would be the financial implications of AIDS, the ethical/moral implications, the social implications, the physical/health implications, the history, the causes, and so on.
Each of these perspectives or points of view would yield different information about the issue leading to a greater understanding of its complexity.
After evaluating this information, we could form a well-reasoned critical opinion of the issue.
As educated people, we are obligated to use good critical thinking skills when examining an issue, and good critical thinking skills obligate us to view an issue through as many perspectives as necessary to understand its complexity before we make assumptions or voice opinions.