One reason we despise the climate of fear is that it takes up the time and energy we would rather spend productively on the pastimes just mentioned. Even legitimate fears concerning our personal health or future, climate change, inclusion, children’s safety, the national economy, spending on health and education and refugee and asylum seeker policies, may be viewed as distractions from what we would like to spend our time doing.
We also manufacture fears to control our thoughts and actions such as the fear of being overwhelmed by migrants and refugees, the fear of our national values being undermined by those who don’t appreciate sport, and the fear of radicals or gay people trying to warp children’s minds.
How can we find balance and peace in our lives in these troubled times? We are familiar with the value of practices such as meditation, relaxation, art therapy and contemplation but we rarely see the promotion of reflection as a way to learn from experience and develop our ability to address the work of acting responsibly and productively. To find balance in our lives we need to be attentive to these realities in positive ways, rather than burying our heads in the sand in denial. Denial leads to greater fear, and even worse, to being seduced by fear-mongers, unable to tell the difference between valid and manufactured fears.
Reflection as a way of engaging with our hopes and fears is obtained through community education or learning from experience. Professional people such as doctors, psychologists and engineers design and redesign their ways of doing things by reflecting on their experience in a structured way called professional or clinical supervision. Paolo Freire, the South American adult educator, taught adults to create a better and more just world for themselves by what he called conscientisation. This means using creative methods to help people recognise their own needs and empowering them to act, rather than remaining powerless in conditions that risked their health and futures.
Freire taught that the process of reflection for change requires us to name our reality. This can be difficult in a world where time is money and so many calls are made on our time and energy. How do we become aware of our reality and avoid the powerlessness and futility of denial? Freire invites those experiencing powerlessness to engage in the process of asking questions about their circumstances, possible outcomes and to identify whose interests are being served.
The explosion of wars in the world is not in the interests of the armed forces – they might end up dead or maimed. It is often not in the national interest. Hundreds of millions demonstrated around the world against the second Gulf War. This was to no avail amongst the coalition of the willing, but the protest was subsequently viewed as right by all but the most defiantly optimistic or gratuitously blind. Those who engage in wars quite often have ideological or financial interests. If we unmask these and name them honestly, we can begin to understand why wars occur and direct our energies into ways which seek to curtail the mindless support for them.
Critical reflection on practice requires forensic research, coming to terms with and naming realty and employing a process of questioning. I like to think of this process as thoughtful scepticism. It is also about designing multiple and creative trajectories for action and engaging in ongoing critical reflection in relation to paths that have previously been chosen.
Surely Jesus must have known a blind man would want to see again, so why did he ask “what do you want me to do for you?” in Mark’s Gospel? Well, I’m not sure, but it is the first step of reflective practice to freely and clearly name the reality. Jesus does wait to hear the blind man say, “I want to see again,” thus leaving the power and the responsibility for change in the hands of the one who has the most to win or lose. The deepest interests of the one most affected are respected. What a difference such an approach might have made in the Middle East.
And if we were to ask Aboriginal Australians, survivors of sexual abuse, LGBTI people or asylum seekers “what do you want us to do for you?”, and were guided by their response, might we not find more creative and collaborative ways forward? Indeed, isn’t that the essence of what good reflection is?