We gaze into the mirror and indulge in soul-searching.
Well… Some of us gaze, and some of us indulge in soul-searching. Reflection, even without an explicit purpose, can be revealing. So why not devote a little time to introspection? Aren’t there insights to be gained?
On the other hand, taking a hard look at ourselves in order to advance toward a goal can offer tremendous advantages.
This is true in our personal lives, and likewise, in the workplace.
One of the features I’ve always enjoyed at The New York Times is the purposeful self-reflection of the public editor, as she picks up the proverbial pen to elaborate on their editorial decisions, opportunities, tough calls and missteps. It seems to me that this is self-examination of the best sort, further enhanced by an element of transparency that I, as a reader, enjoy.
Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa
In a recent opinion piece, Times columnist Frank Bruni engages in journalistic self-reflection and takes himself to task. He describes the ways in which political pundits make use of what one might term “non-best” practices.
In Despicable Us, he writes:
… We play petty games and barrel down pointless roads… There are bad habits we should surrender not merely for Lent but forever…
You get the gist. It’s a mea culpa, mea culpa of sorts, along with his mention of what political journalists get right. (More on that in a moment.)
What sparks my interest in Bruni’s article isn’t the narrow scope of reporting on political campaigns, but rather two items that are broadly applicable to many of us.
Is Your Nose Growing?
Bruni advises himself and fellow political journalists:
Resist declaring emergencies where they don’t exist. We may wish certain snags were roadblocks and certain missteps collapses, because we think they should be or they’re sexier that way. But we look foolish when we’re wrong.
All hail the exaggeration, the clever quip, the snazzy headline! Who doesn’t want their 15 minutes or hours of going viral these days? But when does exaggeration slide into untruth? Are we all becoming Pinocchios? Is my nose growing?
On Data Deficits and Amusing Assumptions
An equally tasty a morsel from Bruni:
Resist overly tidy diagnoses of the nation’s mood. Four people drinking coffee on a street corner of Hardscrabble, Del., or Ordinary, Va., do not constitute a snapshot of the electorate, no matter how fetching their town’s name.
Come on. You have to chuckle. Hardscrabble, Delaware? Ordinary, Virginia?
Amusement aside, doesn’t he make a good point? Aren’t we all apt to use our own experience and that of three pals as enough to draw conclusions?
Getting Things Right Takes Time, Reflection
On the side of Getting Things Right, Bruni speaks of fact checking sites, and he deems them Good. Many would agree. Gathering real data takes time. Checking facts takes time. Reflecting on findings — thoughtfully — takes time.
And so I would apply these lessons to Real Life as well. How often do we take whatever we find on social media as a given, when it’s news or anything else? I love my social media, but I also value my most credible sources (and my common sense).
Shouldn’t we always vet our sources, especially in the age of the Internet?
Staring into a metaphorical mirror?
Sometimes I think I do way too much of it already. Then again, maybe I’m second guessing, which isn’t the same thing. Maybe I’m chiding myself. Also not the same, and not productive. Maybe what I ought to be doing is the sort of discovery process that is enhanced by asking questions — from me to me — questions that lay bare my motivations, my insecurities… so I may capitalize on the former and overcome the latter.
In other words, return to one of my favorite mantras: Why not? What’s the worst that can happen?
For me, introspection is a helpful tool when things aren’t going right, and equally (though we do it less), when they are. We could all do with a good hard look in the mirror when it comes to what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how. In Bruni’s self-criticism, I find gems applicable to my own life – eschewing exaggeration (except for fun) and knowing the difference between personal bias, personal experience and data.
I welcome your thoughts.
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