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?

Guest Essayist Kirk Curnutt: Time the Avenger, Time the Redeemer

I am so thrilled to welcome my friend and colleague, Dr. Kirk Curnutt, as a special guest essayist for Reflection and Choice.  Thank you, Kirk.

Time the Avenger, Time the Redeemer

One of the first things I did after my father died unexpectedly in 1992 was count calendar squares back to his final birthday. He lived exactly forty-nine years and 108 days, I discovered. The precise number was important because I knew a time would come, if I managed to eke it out, when I would have to admit that I had lived longer than he ever did.

Image

The author and his father, 1971, turning 7 and 29 respectively.

Knowing the number of days wasn’t necessary for calculating when this turning point would occur. That didn’t require much math. Because I was born on my father’s twenty-second birthday, all I had to do was flip forward a couple of decades and a deuce and go one day past the solemn anniversary whose observance would by then, I feared, have grown old hat.  

The number was of more ritual importance. I needed it to imagine the countdown—or the count-up—I knew I would commence when I hit that final November 15 of my forties: 10 … 20 … 80 .. 100 …

March 3, 2014, I scribbled in a now-discarded notebook. Forty-nine and 109. It wasn’t intended as an Oedipal boast or taunt. It was a warning from my twenty-seven year-old self to prepare for the day I would lose my father all over again.

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I am The Doctor. Who?

I’ve always felt like a time traveler in my own life.  It’s a weird condition.  Maybe there is name for it – temporal dysfunction, PTDO (present time deficit disorder), or chronos syndrome.   Whatever the official name, I’ve never felt like I was living at the right time.  It’s not that this time I am in is wrong, but rather I feel like I’m just visiting.  That this isn’t my time.    Does anybody else feel this way?

My condition manifests itself in different ways.  I sometimes become an observer of things that most people would pass by as mere background noise.  For instance, I’ll walk into a shopping mall and say to myself “If I was visiting from 1985, what would I notice.  What would stand out first?”  Then I notice the Star Trek communicators that everyone seem to carry and constantly engage with.  The flat, small tablet computers people read from in the coffee shops.  The animated graphics on the menu from which I order my lunch.  I notice the color of cars.   Fashion.  Hairstyles. Continue reading