It’s difficult to look back at the past semester and evaluate it with a clear mind. It seems to me like there have been too few days to achieve the necessary distance from it all, if that is even possible. Reflection is a tricky thing you see. It assumes some relative truth about a past event, however real or abstract that event may have been, and that our interpretation of the world and that event remains the same.
I am reminded of the way Clifford Geertz interprets the way we “are” as individuals; the doing, the thinking, and the living. “Man is an animal, suspended in the webs of significance he himself has spun”. Geertz is saying that as humans we have the ability to create and modify our cultures, individual and collective. And it's these constructs that define what we see and "experience". It's also important to remember that what we experience and what we choose to remember from that experience are not always the same (Kahneman). They are certainly a subset of one another but it’s these “webs of significance” that dictate what we put forth and what we store, somewhere deeper in the recesses of our memories.
So does reflection really exist? Are we essentially looking back on an interpretation, which was made using a very different understanding of the world then the one we currently have? I would certainly hope that this is the case. I hope that we are seeing the world in a different way than we did 17+ weeks ago. Some might say that this is the essence of graduate level education and anything less will not suffice. Others might argue that is the essence of life and that it’s this dynamic interpretation of the world around us that makes us unlike any other living organism.
But all this does not simply mean that reflection is useless and we should spend time thinking only about the present and the future. Quite the contrary, I propose that we think of reflection in iterative terms. Consider the reasons one takes the graduate education leap. There must be some formal logic there, some powerful underlying reason to take the plunge and commit all this time and effort and money to achieve some end. I propose that reflecting quickly and often can help us keep in sight our original goals (or distill which ones to challenge). Reflection is a tool that can helps us navigate the complexity of our own thoughts by continuously evaluating and keeping in focus what is important to us.
Experiencing and reflecting on our education in this way can help us be more engaged participants, better teammates, and more empathetic researchers by embracing this “robust unstable system” that we are, as Rick Robinson eloquently describes the complexity of human behavior. It is about acknowledging that our unique point-of-view is in a constant state of flux and that it takes more than an occasional snapshot in time to have a grasp of it. Therefore reflecting more often can help us to keep our goals in focus and it forces us to evaluate our progress with the ultimate goal of getting what you want out of your education. Or in the very least figuring out something about yourself that you did not know before.
On behalf of the New Idiom I wish everyone in the ID Community a very Happy New Year. May the upcoming year bring with it the courage for all of us to embrace uncertainty and inspire us to make the everyday better for everyone.