Reflection: refocussing the lens

I often like to think of analogies that capture the inherent complexity of an idea and present it in such a way that it is relatable to a wider audience. It is hypothesised by some [e.g. Lakoff, Chomsky, Mezirow, Habermas] that we learn communicatively through analogies and metaphors [e.g. we relate what is new to what is known by looking for similarities between the new and known [although this is often performed below the explicit conscious mode of awareness and is thus automated – we ‘see similarities but without intentionally looking’ which explains the notion of us ‘seeing what we expect or want to see’ as expectations are like habits of mind and we see what is reinforced in our perceptions over time.

If we see the world through a lens, reflection is a way of refocussing that lens. When I say lens, I mean the habitual ways of perceiving and thinking about the world or a discrete aspect of it [such as professional knowledge]. We see the world through our typical thought patterns. Reflection helps us to reorganise our knowledge structures in a conscious and active way, as Jennifer Moon states it is cognitive housekeeping [getting our thoughts clear and tidy]. We spend time considering our ways of thinking about a topic and question the assumptions that are inherent within statements we make. These statements represent our ‘ways of thinking’. I might write down my thoughts and subsequently identify assumptions that I have taken for granted, problematise these assumptions and give myself time and space to think them through properly, as they have been previously left ‘under the surface’ being taken for granted yet influencing the way we ‘see the world’.

An assumption with this article itself starts in the first line where I state: ‘I often like to think of analogies that capture the inherent complexity of an idea and present it in such a way that it is relatable to a wider audience’. This statement assumes that analogies make ideas easier to understand. However, I could problematise this and say that by taking the complexity away, I inadvertently make it more difficult to understand the nuances that constitute an idea used in-practice and in effect decontextualize it from its natural state. If the analogy is not carefully thought through it could end up confusing more when it comes to acting on the ideas and operationalising them in practice. The reality of practice is not sympathetic to lack of understanding and is quite brutal often leading to errors of judgement, mistakes and performance management.

Reflection is important to help us to re-organise typical ways of thinking if these include taken for granted assumptions constructed by automatically assimilating cultural and social cues. For example, if someone grew up in a racist household it is likely that racially denigrating language would have been assimilated by the child who without being given the tools of thought to question these assumptions would grow up having assimilated a racially abhorrent cognitive structure. Thus, reflection can help us question socially, culturally and politically prescribed ideas, freeing us from their constraining effects and helping us to think for ourselves, potentially creating more accepting individuals, views and attitudes.