The Civic Media Series: Reflective
Reflective practice is the ability to look at not only what you have done in the past, but engaging with the emotions, ideas, and experiences that inform your decisions in order to not only prevent mental roadblocks but to acknowledge that learning will always continue. It’s vital in all civic media work, but I’d say it’s even more important to prioritize reflection when you’re working with vulnerable populations, especially if you’re not a part of those communities.
Reflection is not only reactive but also proactive. It enables us to consider the outcomes before we act—something we should be doing, but often are not. When you’re coming from a place of privilege especially, you need to be cognizant of how your ideas and feelings are affecting how you engage. Everything that we are coming at a project with—our past experiences, our current situation, our hopes and fears and ideas—affect how we engage and affect our communities.
It’s important and necessary to consider the effects of our ideas and actions, but we must also consider why we do and think as we do. Good intentions rarely become positive actions if we do not work to understand the root of our preconceptions.
In his TED Talk, “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!” Ernesto Sirolli, in addition to several other practices, reflects on aid work in Africa and how our approach means that work continues to fail. We often have grand ideas of how to save people, but these ideas don’t consider the lives of the people we’re trying to “help.” Consider what you’re feeling about the communities you want to work with; is it patronizing? Is it pitying or paternalistic? Is it grounded in their knowledge or your own ideas? If the building a solution doesn’t include the reality of the community you’re building it alongside, it’s not a viable solution.
The anthology Resistance and Hope: Essays by Disabled People edited by Alice Wong offers many examples of reflective practice, but in her essay “Building Back Belonging, Hope and Possibility,” Mia Mingus reflects on modern activism and how her own reflection led to an approach she calls “building alternatives”—working on what we need for the world as it is. Of course, Mingus’ work is rooted in Disability Justice and that too is the result of quite a lot of reflection.
We can reflect on our work by talking through it—with others and with ourselves—through vlogs, blogs, or even social media. It can be helpful to catalogue your thoughts like this, but reflection might be as simple as talking through the experience with a friend, figuring out what you learned from it, and trying to use that information for the future.
Incorporating reflection in simple ways like this allows us to prioritize it as a part of the work, rather than an afterthought. It’s easy to focus so much on the important work being done that you forget how reflection exists as a part of that work. When your time and energy are limited, it’s important to plan for reflection rather than hoping it will happen eventually.