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Baba Brinkman: 18 Critical Thinking and Assertiveness Tips Based on the Rap Artist’s “See From Space” Album

I just added a new name to my Favorite Artists list: Science rapper Baba Brinkman‘s music is a fresh, much-needed, and not-so-subtle social nudge that can assist modern societies’ process of shaping entertainment contexts into powerful vessels of scientific knowledge.

What’s a ‘Science Rapper”, you ask? Well, Canadian-born, New York-based rap artist and award-winning playwright Dirk Murray “Baba” Brinkman is, in fact, a daring science communicator who is using music as means to educate and raise social awareness in relation to topics of high scientific relevance, such as Evolution, Human Nature, Religion, Climate Change, Consciousness, and Culture.

His series of science-based rap albums and off-Broadway shows established new directions in both science and entertainment. Facts retrieved through the scientific method found a more direct way into popular culture, while entertainment can gain new levels of social relevance as the artistic expression can now trigger powerful social events based not only on aesthetics-driven emotions but on scientific knowledge.

And there is even more to that, I found out while listening to Baba’s new album, “See From Space” (inspired by “The Ape that Understood the Universe” by Steve-Stewart Williams, a book I reviewed here). While Critical Thinking principles and scientific facts fill the foreground, there are also many important things that can be learned from the underlying assertive attitude that supports this format of communication and the resulting message. Of course, those bits caught my attention – an assertiveness advocate’s radar never sleeps, I guess. So, it is my goal for this article to list the main Critical Thinking and Assertiveness Tips* inspired by Baba Brinkman’s “See From Space” album. Continue reading if you’re curious about what this endeavor produced. [Note: I’m really fortunate that sometimes talent managers guide my attention toward cool content such as this one. Thanks, Ben!]

*These are mainly my interpretations. The artist may have had a different perspective in mind when writing his message in all these songs, I only tell you what I see through my lens and how I think his work can be used to improve our Critical Thinking skills and Assertiveness levels.

  1. “People are not their beliefs”.

When it comes to both Critical Thinking and Assertiveness, the ability to separate a specific behavior or thought from the person displaying or holding it is highly significant. What we think or do does not make up the entirety of who we are as persons, nor should these elements dictate the main ways in which people treat or react to us.

Actually, using a person’s behavior or thought as the main lens through which we see them is linked to a Cognitive Distortion called Labeling. The social risk is that labels often block us from authentically engaging with a person since we seem to interact with a mental construct and all its supposed characteristics, instead of a real, complex person.

Song that inspired the tip: Confessions of a Skeptic.

2. We should be willing to change our opinion when presented with new data or evidence.

Cognitive rigidity never served anyone well. Allowing ourselves to reassess and come to new conclusions when confronted with a modified context is not only a great sign of positive adaptation to that new environment but also a core skill of a critical thinker.

Being able to admit that one of the beliefs you hold needs adjustment and also making that cognitive change, is part of healthy mental flexibility.

Song that inspired the tip: Confessions of a Skeptic.

3. Not sharing another person’s beliefs should not imply the dismissal of their subjective experience.

What’s not true for us may be valid for someone else simply because they’ve had an experience and they’ve drawn the conclusion that made the most sense to them at that time. That conclusion may or may not hold water when assessed from a scientific perspective, but the experience that did generate it remains valid for the participant. From a point of view guided by assertive principles, people are entitled to hold any beliefs, even those deemed irrational by others. Respecting another person’s perspective regarding their own experiences is extremely important for those who want to approach human interactions from a non-aggressive position.

I believe you believe it to be true” says Baba Brinkman in “Confessions of a Skeptic”. This type of validation maintains a healthy environment for people who hold opposing views on various topics. It basically means “I understand and accept that that is your experience and that you consider this conclusion valid, that it makes sense to you”. This is one of the bits that dissolve the “versus” positions and nurture collaborative contexts.

“I understand this is your view, but it is not mine” is very different from “Your view is wrong. Mine is right”. This would be an aggressive approach. The validation of the subjective experience is an assertive one.

Song that inspired the tip: Confessions of a Skeptic.

4. Taking responsibility for our actions and their results is the way toward individual and social improvement.

To reach that point, we need to fight a more convenient go-to reaction: blaming external factors for our undesirable results. “Humans evolved to blame flaws on someone else” is a direct reference to our preference for an external locus of control (a belief that life is controlled by factors outside of one’s zone of influence or control – other people, fate, luck, etc), especially when confronted with negative characteristics and situations. This perspective does not allow the person to take action and thus modify the problematic context. If it’s not you who caused it, then it cannot be you who can make things better. And for most things that have to do with our daily lives – as individuals and communities, this is simply not the case. We have the power to change a vast array of things about our lives if only we’d decide to take responsibility for the changes to come.

Song that inspired the tip: See from Space.

5. One should be aware that personal and group interests, trivial or significant, may influence our judgment. 

“They [Humans] form coalitions and reject evidence / If the facts are a threat to their tribal memberships”. 

As pointed by Baba, social rejection is one of the things that can make us think and act in ways that are considered acceptable and desirable in a certain social context, but those ways may not pertain to reasonable and evidence-based processes and conclusions.

This is why holding so-called “unpopular views” can get you into trouble when dealing with people who display low tolerance levels when confronted with opinions and perspectives different from their own.

Song that inspired the tip: See from Space.

6. One should take responsibility for the opinions they share publicly.

Sharing an opinion is one thing, but not all opinions are or should be treated equally. When it comes to social relevance, informed opinions trump those that are exclusively subjective. A reasonable social approach is to eliminate the expectation that one’s unsubstantiated, highly personal opinion should be accepted by others as fact, unless it can be linked to scientific evidence.

Song that inspired the tip: See from Space.

7. “It’s OK to say I don’t Know”

It’s OK for us not to have all the answers. In fact, it would be unrealistic for us to expect, from ourselves or from others, to be able to provide full explanations and answers, especially when it comes to complex processes and phenomena. It is also OK for us to choose to hold a belief even when we do not fully understand the underlying factors that may support it.

What is not OK is to claim to have answers when you don’t, or ask others to blindly accept feeble arguments that allegedly support your belief. “It is my choice to believe this even though I cannot explain it” is preferable to “My belief is valid [just because]. No evidence is needed. It speaks for itself. etc.”

Song that inspired the tip: Confessions of a Skeptic.

8. “The mind plays tricks, and we can learn to spot ‘em”

Plenty of things weird about our mind. Not only that we do not yet understand major mental processes or subjective mental experiences, but out of those that we do understand – to what can be considered a satisfactory level, many work in the background, in an automatic and outside of our awareness fashion.

Cognitive Distortions or automatic thoughts are such mental phenomena. Among other things, they modify, in a negative way, how we analyze a situation and how we connect with others. The good news is that we can learn to identify these distorted processes and can change how they affect our lives and the lives of others. It’s not a comfortable journey – these processes are hidden from our awareness because long-term use made them seem a genuine part of us, of who we are, but the result offers clarity and opens up a more harmonious perspective.

Song that inspired the tip: Confessions of a Skeptic.

9. Getting your priorities right is a key step toward relevance, meaning, and purpose.

In “Fahrenheit 45”, “a rap adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel for the modern social media and reality television age”, Baba Brinkman addresses the many things that have changed about the way we acquire knowledge and how we relate to culture once we entered a technology-abundant era – “Remember the feelin’ of chillin’ under a tree with a book?/../all I can see now is a Kindle app” – and the deeper effects that go with all these changes – “Less knowledgable, I sped up quick after starting slow/ I don’t even use Kindle now, I switched to Audible”. 

This also shows a change in our priorities and I believe this is one of the most important things that we need to protect from being hijacked in this whole technological madness: making sure that we maintain focus on truly significant things and don’t get lost among pretty, shiny, colorful ones.

Commit it to memory!? No, read it on your phone / I’m just gonna check my social media first though…

Yup, we do this priorities-wise. We easily get distracted by lesser tasks and activities, thus allowing procrastination to be a global sport. One of the results: we gather less knowledge and engage in rather superficial social interactions.

Song that inspired the tip: Fahrenheit 45.

10. It is imperative in this day and age to learn how to spot fake news.

Fake data of any sort, actually. Understanding and applying the main principles of Critical Thinking will make us react to arguments and information that don’t hold water.

Right now we seem to impulsively react to titles without reading an entire article, accept sensational claims instead of assessing their validity, and act in ways directly or indirectly suggested to us by figures of perceived authority without questioning their motives and consequences.

This turns us into masses that are susceptible to all types of manipulation. We lose control over our lives in this way. It has to stop. Critical Thinking skills will bring about that result.

Song that inspired the tip: Fahrenheit 45.

11. Claiming freedom is one thing. Understanding the importance of freedom is a whole different one.

So many people know that freedom is a right they have and demand that others respect it, but are not necessarily able to identify those more subtle situations of infringement and the overall consequences they may have.

We need to understand the extended role of freedom in both personal and social environments and how oppression or censorship can gradually and negatively shape the world we live in. Then we can act accordingly.

Song that inspired the tip:  Fahrenheit 45.

12. Dialogue is one of the best tools we have for finding the best solutions that influence social contexts.

Scoffing and dismissing recommendations that equal or derive from “Communication is key” structures makes us delay social development and agreement.

Wait! Before you try to call in a leviathan/ A salamander to fry it all in fireball/ Try a small thing called dialogue / You might just find it viable.

The tip may seem a cliché but its implications are anything but. Valid decoding of verbal and nonverbal messages relies on effective communication skills and once that step is complete, collaboration can occur.

Song:  Fahrenheit 45.

13. Emotions are both a blessing and a curse. Learn to make the difference.

Emotions accompany all of our mental processes and they have the power to both support and hinder them. Developing the ability to identify when each of these influences happens is a strong skill in the Critical Thinking and Assertiveness realm.

For example, Emotional Reasoning is a cognitive distortion that makes the individual consider their own emotional reactions as facts and real traits of a context or object. Example: “I am scared of planes, therefore flying must be dangerous”.

But emotions can also be used as valid guides to understanding situations and relationships. “If this person says he/she loves me, then why do I feel belittled whenever they seem to pay me a compliment?” – The answer may be linked to the way the compliment is being conveyed and may reveal underlying aggressive or passive-aggressive attitudes. Backhanded compliments fall under this category.

Song that inspired the tip:  Feelings for reasons.

14. Unrealistic goals negatively affect one’s emotions.

We like goal-setting activities. They give us a sense of direction for both our personal and professional lives. But not all the goals we outline for ourselves are manageable, in the sense that one or more of their elements may be unreachable, thus making the entire goal unrealistic.

Unrealistic goals set us up for guaranteed failure and this result will often severely impact our emotional dynamic – from directly experiencing negative emotions such as sadness and helplessness, to long-term effects that can be linked to the way we perceive ourselves and how we conduct our life from that point on – self-confidence, self-esteem, intrinsic motivation, etc.

Persisting in the pursuit of a goal that’s not gonna go through / Triggers a hopeless feelin’ of low fuel

We need to pay attention and modify how we formulate goals, to make sure that they are indeed a reachable target linked to significant principles and values that we hold and that they contribute to the accomplishment of what we consider to be our life’s purpose.

Song that inspired the tip:  Feelings for reasons.

15.  Freedom comes with responsibility. All rights do.

Freedom and other personal rights don’t exist to only allow the individual to act as they please. One must carefully assess the implications of their actions and their effects on others before considering that they are entitled to perform them.

I like to say [on repeat at times] that a person’s rights stop where the rights of another person begin.

Baba Brinkman’s way of conveying the same message is part of “Freedom”: “Your freedom to swing a fist ends where my face begins“.

Mastering the way we exercise our rights is a process that relies, among other things, on understanding the role of these rights for both individuals and societies, on informed opinions, as well as assertive principles.

Song that inspired the tip:  Freedom.

16. Rights don’t work unless you do.

Freedom is only strong when it’s used“.  That goes for all of our rights and all of our goals. Unless we actively exercise a right, perform a skill, or pursue a goal, they are all meaningless. Just like there is no difference between a person who cannot read and one who can, but doesn’t.

Song that inspired the tip:  Can’t Stop.

17. We have limited time to change things. Act the second you know what needs to be done.

I love this phrase: “You can’t bring the future back”. It’s been around for a while but not many seem to have grasped its meaning in the sense of internalization. Many of us wait for “a better time” to do the things that we consider necessary to change a context – personal or social, but the thing is that the best time is that very second when we understand what needs to be done, what factors will most likely modify those contexts for the better. Why wait seconds, minutes, days, years, or more? 

Song that inspired the tip:  Still Off That.

18. Science denial often comes with hypocrisy. Spot and highlight the discrepancies.

Energy healers who go for scientific approaches when they themselves are ill, religious leaders who condemn the evils of technology via their smartphones, believers of the flat Earth theory who love taking trips “around the globe” using crafts developed through scientific methods that factor in the sphere-like shape of the Earth, etc. – All signs of hypocrisy and failure of logical arguments regarding their main claims.

Whatever scientists can discover / You want that / When it’s justice and life or death / You want facts / But when you feel threatened by science / It’s all bad / And you can’t bring the future back

Song that inspired the tip:  Still Off That.

BONUS TIP

19. Self-analysis is where it all starts.

Analyze your thought processes and find ways to improve them. None of us Critical Thinking advocates claim that we can reach a ‘mind free of bias” stance, but learning how to spot flawed thinking processes, within the limits imposed by our human understanding and biology, can trigger amazing changes for yourself and for the social environment that we all share.

Take to look at the source of your thoughts, you might find the door’s blocked“.

It’s not an easy or comfortable process, but it’s definitely a reachable goal for those with a high-enough level of intrinsic motivation toward bettering the way they function mentally.

Song that inspired the tip:  Can’t Stop.

Baba Brinkman’s work is filled with little nuggets of knowledge and Critical Thinking and Assertiveness tips. I really enjoyed listening to his album and writing this article inspired by his message. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have all his previous albums to listen to, so I’ll end this article here and press Play. Wouldn’t mind if you’d join me though…

You can listen to Baba Brinkman’s “See From Space” album, here:

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon | Spotify

No, this post is not sponsored.

P.S. I also learned a new expression and I have a feeling I’ll use it often: “I don’t give a measle”. 😀 

Featured Image Source Photos: Used with permission.

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