The evolution of society requires the ability of its members to recognize, reflect, and adapt to change. We as individuals must accept that we are by nature imperfect, even the beliefs which are core to our personal ideology require constant reflection and modification. Although the process of critical reflection is a highly individualized process, the effect of personal transformation is shared through social interaction and active communication leading to an evolution in society.
Mezirow (1991), presents the role of critical reflection through the study of various theorist and their respective representations of the role of critical reflection and autonomous thought (pgs. 99-117). Mezirow (1991), begins the analysis of critical reflection through the eyes of John Dewey, who defined reflection as the process of “… careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends” (p. 100). Under this theory I would identify a problem, and use external evidence to determine if my understanding and beliefs are accurate. I agree with Mezirow (1991), that although the process presented by Dewey is well grounded, it is missing the human aspect, the emotional pitfalls and endless journey for approval. Mezirow (1990), states that the inquisitive nature, and need to understand what is happening to and around us is core to humanity (p. 4).
Mezirow (1991), fills these gaps with the study of reflective vs. non-reflective action, and mindfulness vs. mindlessness. Non-reflective action and mindlessness play an essential role in the process of critical reflection. The emotional strain of critical reflection requires a period of rest, the ability to rely on prior knowledge to create dependable habitual knowledge. Mezirow (1991), states that although we are able to essentially function through non reflective … mindless actions, allowing the habits developed over time to take over, we cannot learn. Learning requires critical reflection; personal growth and transformation of our belief system requires that remove ourselves from the fast lane, and start asking the difficult questions (p. 109). It is essential that I find a balance, as using critical reflection in all scenarios will result in stress and distract from those problems when require true reflection. Falling into mindlessness regularly is equally dangerous to self and society. Mindlessness results in the acceptance of distorted beliefs, harmful or dangerous standards often resulting in social unrest (Mezirow, 1991, p. 115). Mezirow (1990), states that the dependence on distorted belief systems lead to the support and development of potentially harmful social practices (p. 5). Then by avoiding transformation we are effectively ignoring potentially dangerous problems, while ignoring the potential solutions.
Critical reflection would be far less difficult if the pressure of cultural and social expectations could be disregarded. Kreber (2012) reminds the transformative learner that the role of emotions, social and cultural pressures cannot be ignored in the process of critical reflection. “Soul Work” (Kreber, 2012, p. 331), the inherent role of emotions in reflection requires that not only do we identify our assumptions but also identify the emotional connection.
Bringing emotion into critical reflection creates the opportunity for a distinctly real outcome that can only be achieved through the courageous and unwavering exploration of our innermost beliefs (Kreber, 2012, p. 332). When we ignore emotion and social interactions we fall victim to the analysis our belief system not on new evidence, but against our own perceived standards effectively preventing transformative growth. The subconscious attempt to avoid the emotional and intellectual battle of true reflection results in what Brookfield (2009), describes as “… the cognitive equivalent of a dog trying to catch its tail…” (p. 133).
What then is required to begin the reflective process? Taylor (2000), found in several studies in the transformative theory, that the discourse among students during group activities, specifically that which results in conflict will trigger critical reflection. (p. 7) Taylor (2000), found that these triggers allowed the students to “experience learning more directly and holistically, beyond a logical and rational approach” (p. 7). Taylor (2000), finds that controversial communication will generate more critical reflection, specifically “issues about AIDS, abortion, wellness, spirituality, death and dying, and communication” (p. 8). Further studies as illuminated by Sambrook & Stewart (2008), present the theory that there is an inherent partnership in critical reflection (p. 362). When we enter into group learning activities and conversations, and open ourselves to the analysis of commonalities and disagreements allows for the development of “dependable interpretation or synthesis” (Mezirow, 1997, p. 7).
I would consider myself one who already over analyzes many scenarios, often creating conflicts where none naturally exist. There must be a distinction between being present in the moment, and reflecting. Throughout the study of critical reflection I have been plagued with the example of driving a vehicle. Driving a vehicle does not require critical reflection, many of the processes are habitual muscle memory. I do not need to think about where the break and gas pedals are located, I can turn on the lights and the wipers without active thought. I must however be present when navigating, and interacting with other vehicles to prevent potential dangerous accidents.
If I ignore the inherent danger of driving I open myself up to the risks of serious injury, which are almost completely avoidable when I take preventative action. Similarly in the role of critical reflection I must take personal preventative action by acknowledging the faults in the structure of my personal belief system. I must insure that I am doing the work, not merely chasing my own tail. If I am not reflecting against new external information, then I am not challenging the status quo. I would then through abstention be promoting and accepting ideologies based in hate, racism, and sexism, limiting my own potential and ability to create change. In my personally journey to become a better critical thinker, I must first determine if I am putting myself in situations which would inspire critical reflection. I can safely answer this question as yes; not only as a graduate student but also as an active attorney. My personal and professional beliefs and boundaries are regularly challenged through active communication.
I must now ask myself the following questions when confronted with a potential conflict:
- What belief is in question?
- Where I developed the belief in question?
- How important is this belief to my identity as an individual?
- What judgement am I passing on the subject based on my own emotional bias?
What are the potential negative effects of said belief? and; What is my next step? Do I throw out the belief or just modify what is already in place? Once I have answered these questions, as well as several subject specific questions, I must then analyze my answers along with the new evidence presented, at which point I must decide if I will accept the new evidence, reject it, or in some way merge my belief with the new evidence. I must be courageous, and accept that this process is often wrought with social and cultural challenges. Critical reflection is not something that can be thrust upon us, as it requires willful active participation. Resources Brookfield, S. (2009). Engaging Critical Reflection in Corporate America. Transformative Learning in Practice: Insights from Community, Workplace, and Higher Education (pp.125 135). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.