The ability to think both rationally and critically is an essential skill. The distinction between rational and critical thinking is worth noting. Say, for example, you make last-minute plans with friends to go for dinner with the proviso that you pick the restaurant. It’s 6 p.m. and you want to meet them in an hour because their babysitter can only stay until 9:30. To make an informed decision, you make a list of all the possible choices within a 25-mile radius. You search online and get a copy of each menu as well as the name and background of each chef. You studiously read each and every comment prior customers have left online with regard to the individual restaurant and the various meals they serve. You then estimate the cost of a meal at each place and weigh it against the value received both in terms of food and ambience. You’ve done a wonderful job in acting critically with one problem: It’s now 8:15 p.m. and your friends can no longer go. You did an admirable job of acting critically but you were somewhat irrational in that you failed to balance that against the consideration of a time constraint.
How many of us forget our parents’ advice to “think before you act?” The truth is that educators both formal and familial have taught us at an early age to not proceed impetuously, but rather to reflect on the pros and cons of any proposed course of action. Similarly, as a nation, we have learned that the steady hand is preferred over the reckless act. In terms of foreign policy, we have developed policies and procedures which have emerged as a product of long-term relationships, hard work and feedback, both formal and informal, from career foreign policy professionals. As new presidents and administrations are elected, there are differences in emphasis and flavor; however, there has always been an abiding respect for--and utilization of--the accomplishments and knowledge of those who came before them, at least until now.
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