Reflections and Choices, Part 1

Thinking Woman

REFLECTION AND CHOICE, isn’t this a great title for the School of Humanities blog? I started thinking about it a week or so ago. I thought about the relationship between reflection and choice. The two practices are tied together aren’t they? The choices that we have made and that lie before us inhabit our daily reflection. In order to make wise choices we are encouraged to reflect and make thoughtful decisions. Often we regret the choices we’ve made. Sometimes, in hindsight, we realize that we have made bad choices.

I don’t know about you (actually I sort of do because I study peoples habits and beliefs), but I usually have difficulty keeping these two practices connected. I do things without thinking first and I think about things without following through.

There’s this habit that most people practice without realizing it. It’s a cognitive bias. It’s a way of thinking that can cause problems because we risk missing something important. The Confirmation Bias is a way of thinking that describes our unconscious habit of seeing or remembering only what we’re looking for, what we expect to find. When we think about things, we tend to only see what confirms our expectations. The problem is that we might miss other bits of information that could disconfirm these initial beliefs.

Do you see how this could causes problems for most of us?  Sometimes we miss seeing important aspects of the truth because we weren’t really looking for them. Taking time to reflect about yourself, others and your decisions can help to minimize this type of bias. When we are more conscious of our thinking and do it less automatically, we tend to avoid many of the bias that plague the unconscious mind.

Once you know that people are prone to this kind of bias, then you can think more accurately about your own thinking. You have to strive to be reflective. Our choices are the end result of the state of our reflective life. Those students sitting in class who have so much in front of them and so much opportunity in their laps must be challenged each day to reflect, to learn how to reflect, to break out of their habit and explore a new territory. Otherwise…

“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.”  – William Wordsworth

There are always so many choices that face us each day. There are times in life when we are overwhelmed. Choices rush in upon us like a great wave. We sometimes react out of fear, confusion, anger or selfishness. All those destructive emotions can be held at bay by consistent reflection – thinking, praying, what they are now calling being mindful. Viktor Frankl the WWII concentration camp survivor and psychiatrist wrote, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Just as the confirmation bias can limit our choices to our narrow expectations, living a deliberately reflective life can open up our eyes to hidden choices that we could only find deep within our soul.

  1. Turn off the digital screens in your life, sit still and think about the choices before you.
  2. Before plunging headfirst into that pool of rapid conversation, stop and really listen to what the people in your life are saying. Imagine how they are feeling. Listen to what they are not telling you. Become fully engaged in the life that is taking place all around you.
  3. Think about each choice you face and see if you can frame it. Ask yourself, how will this choice enable me to love God more in my life? How will this choice enable me to demonstrate my love for others?

Pass the Peas


The Family Meal

Recently the pastor made a quick reference to the numerous studies on the strong correlation between family meals and children’s health (emotional, physical, mental and spiritual).

How long has that stuff been stacked up on your dining table?

Why did we stop eating together as a family?

  • Both mom and dad are working, sometimes working late.
  • Global business culture that does not keep 9-5 hours.
  • The introduction of internet and technical hardware meant that work stopped being so regulated by the traditional 9-5 boundaries.
  • Many, many more single mothers raising children. Single mothers who are working a lot to make ends meet.
  • An increasing number of parents from broken families trying to raise their own families. All those “taken-for-granted” practices may not have been passed on.
  • The explosion of after school “careers” for children and teens in sports, music and academics. These make evening time together almost impossible.
  • Changes in public education – something new is happening in the classroom. There is more to learn, more pressure to measure learning, more learning must be sent home to be done as “work.”
  • Mobile communication devices that allowed members of the family to stay “connected” while physically apart – allowing older children and teens to live more independent lives.
  • The invention of “food” that can be prepared easily and safely by children and a microwave.
  • Large cities with sprawling suburban enclaves filled with fast-food options.
  • One downside of the turbulent 60’s – no one taught their career bound daughters (or sons) how to cook  – that’s why there are so many cooking shows on TV!
  • The minivan

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Zombie Apocalypse

Today in the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.  – Frederick Buechner

Buechner will inspire you if you read his work. He writes short fiction and reflective Christian books. Take a look again at this quote; he wants us to imagine just the here and now. We pine for the future and carry around so much regret from the past. We always end up frittering away the precious moment in hand because we’re not careful, we’re not watchful, we’re not grateful.

We live in a world that is so future oriented. I teach college students every day. And each day it seems more and more as if we’ve just gathered together for a dress rehearsal. We’re all spending so much time, energy and thought preparing ourselves for the future: career, family (gulp), citizenship, taxes, etc.

What has ended up happening to us all is that we’ve missed the moment at hand. I don’t think college is really supposed to be a rehearsal for the future. It’s supposed to be magic, momentous, and meaningful right now – for what it is right now, not for a promised investment in the future.

I look out at all those bored and disengaged faces. What could this class have to do with my future? How is this going to help me make more money? All the while this very moment is lost again and again.

By the way, I’m trapped in this zombie movie as well. I make all kinds of speeches about “preparing for your future”. Isn’t that what I should be doing? Training current students to become future people?

It’s that Evangelical Mind again.

We are all living in a zombie apocalyptic existence of our own making. We’re dead to the here and now because we’re so completely absorbed in making a successful future for ourselves. The only antidote is to wake up and get engaged with right now. With the only reality we can possess.

Buechner encourages us to live in the present moment, to awaken and to invest our minds and souls into this very second. It’s as fragile as a lightening bug held in the shaking hand of a five year old.

But it’s all we’ve got.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. – Jesus

Who Needs a Family These Days?


I got you babe I got you babe
I got you to hold my hand
I got you to understand
I got you to walk with me
I got you to talk with me
I got you to kiss goodnight
I got you to hold me tight
I got you, I won’t let go
I got you to love me so

I Got You Babe, Sonny Bono, 1966

Thanksgiving is approaching. Family time is around the corner. The best of times, the worst of times. Better get ready.

I don’t want to alarm anyone (well, maybe I do) but things are really changing when it comes to family. Did you know that the way we define family has changed? In leading college Marriage and Family textbooks here’s how family is now defined:

“Any relatively stable group of people who are related to one another through blood, marriage or adoption, or who simply live together, and who provide one another with economic and emotional support.”  (Schwartz, M. and B.M. Scott. 2012. Marriages and Families. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.)

Wouldn’t college roommates fit that definition?

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