Critical Reflection

We left off yesterday worrying the nut of how to decide what to do, and when and how to do it.  I have continued to worry that nut, to some (I hope) productive end: I have learned that in order to engage effectively and responsibly in any kind of sustained action, I need to practice critical reflection to identify goals, methods, obstacles and tools for such engagement.  (Apologies in advance for my abstraction.  I’ll get more concrete, I promise.)

As I have written elsewhere (plug here for Margaret Johnson’s and my new book:, critical reflection pushes me (all of us?) to explore and uncover the assumptions through which I (all of us!) tend to pass any information that comes our way — including how we define and categorize people we perceive as needing our assistance.

Through critical reflection, I self-consciously place myself within the particular context in which I am operating:  Specifically, I recognize that I, as a lawyer and a professor, am someone with (relative) power in the legal and political system — in that I knows its rules and how to use them; and I have access to channels of communication and influence.  That is what I bring to the table.

Through critical reflection, I self-consciously evaluate my power and ability to act in relation to the other characters involved in the  particular context in which I am operating:   Those other characters could be judges, other lawyers, government officials — all of whom also have inherent power in the legal and political system.  But the other characters are also protest movements, community organizations, other professionals, affected communities and individuals, etc..  And while those kinds of entities might NOT have the embedded power that I and other lawyers and professors have, they have their own power, emanating from different sources.  Critical reflection helps me identify, assess and make intentional choices about engaging with those sources of power.

Through critical reflection, I recognize impediments to my (and others’) power to function in the particular context I’m operating in:  My gender, for example, or my apparent sexual orientation; my age; my experience; my familiarity with particular areas of law or procedural practice; my time availability; my energy level; my confidence, etc.  Through critical reflection I have learned to pay attention and notice which of these kinds of things might undermine my effectiveness and/or get in the way of my engagement.  Critical reflection also helps me identify the power of the other characters, and any impediments on their ability to participate and engage effectively.

So basically, I use critical reflection to identify:

  • my general goals
  • my specific goals
  • my strengths (sources of power)
  • my challenges (impediments to power)
  • others’ strengths (sources of power)
  • others’ challenges (impediments to power)

I do this reflection by reminding myself to be humble both about how much power and knowledge I have and can contribute; but also about how much power and knowledge I DON’T have and shouldn’t try to contribute.  I remind myself not to be afraid to ask questions, to seek help from others with more expertise, to acknowledge that I am not the only one with power, drive, passion, commitment and determination.

I think what I have come to realize is that to engage in long-term resistance and rebuilding, I need to keep my spiritual and intellectual and emotional house in order.  I need to understand WHY I want to engage in resistance before I decide what to do and how to do it.  Critical reflection is my tool for gaining this understanding.

It’s not all navel gazing — this reflection does lead me to action — but it’s a marathon, people.  We’ve gotta pace ourselves.

Stay tuned . . .

Short and Long Term Resistance

Today’s nut is about organizing our priorities.  For those of you who didn’t read the comments on yesterday’s post (“I feel hopeful today”), here is one from my brilliant sister (a Buddhist chaplain who ministers to men and women in maximum security prisons in California):

“I think it IS signalling that the vision for a multicultural America is strongly recognized by the corporate titans as the vision of the future, which at the level of vision and narrative is a very good thing. Hopefully signals that the Trump Admin and policies may in fact be a powerful, but last, gasp of a minority afraid of a changing demographic and the implications for its own place in the world. [That last gasp] can do a lot of damage, though, in the short to medium term…”

Every day, when I wake up,  I call my senators (both Dems) and thank them for their opposition to DeVos and Sessions and Mnuchin and Price.  I call my rep (also a Dem) and thank him for all his great work resisting the administration’s efforts to build a wall, impose a ban, repeal Obamacare, etc.  (I don’t reach out to other senators and reps because I’ve read the Indivisible Guide warnings that members of congress work only for their own constituents (if even that), and don’t care what non-constituents think.) Then I tend to my social media, sharing, responding, posting, amplifying those voices and energies that emphasize forward movement and positive interaction; turning down the negative energy and voices that call for destruction and violence.  And all that is good — necessary and important.

But is it sufficient?

Clearly, we need to be in this for the long haul — the soonest we can hope to see any real structural change is the mid-term elections, slightly less than two years from now.  And even if the Dems take back the House and Senate, we still have another two years of a Republican in the White House (even assuming impeachment, we are stuck with Pence, who in many ways is even more dangerous than the current President).  As my sister rightly points out, a lot of very damaging actions can be taken in those two-four years; actions that have the potential to undermine the rule of law and the functioning of our democracy for years to come.

So in addition to taking action every morning to stop, resist, protest the immediate actions of the Administration, what kinds of things are we doing to build long term resistance to the Administration and its water-boys in the House and Senate? Not to mention rebuilding the structures and systems that the people in power now seem intent on destroying.

And how do we decide — among the multitude of actions and opportunities — what to do and when to do it? Who should I call, what should I write, where should I sign up, how can I help?That’s my worrying nut for today.  I’ll continue tomorrow with some worrying on the notion of using clinical pedagogy/critical reflection to help make those decisions.

Stay tuned!

I feel hopeful today

At the suggestion of my spouse — who is smart about these things — I am going to blog a bit everyday about whatever nut I woke up worrying about or feeling excited by.  I want to be able to tell my eventual grand children what it was really like during the brief and dizzying time known as “The Trump Administration.”   And I want to be able to say, “this is what I did to hasten its demise.”  Keeping a record is almost always a good idea.

So here is today’s nut:  capitalism, when fueled by social responsibility, is a good thing.  Take last night’s “Big Game” — but more specifically, the commercials.  I didn’t watch the game, but I know what happened (big Patriots fan in the family, so these things do matter); I didn’t watch the commercials, but I know what happened.

What happened was:  smart corporations (Budweiser, Audi, 84Lumber, Airbnb, to name a few) appeared to use their precious Superbowl ad minutes (which I hear are exponentially more valuable and expensive than regular old ad minutes) to make subtle and not-so-subtle statements about Trump’s immigration ban.  Does that mean those corporations are opposed to the Executive Order and/or to Trump’s “plans” to build a wall? Maybe.  Some of them, anyway.  But for sure what it means is that the marketers at these smart corporations are paying attention.  Their ads tell us that these smart marketers believe that the majority of the people watching the Superbowl — i.e. the majority of the purchasing public — i.e. the majority of the American people — are opposed to the Executive Orders and/or plans to build a wall.

Given how much every second of airtime costs these corporations, I’m betting their marketers do a lot of research — reading the tea leaves, looking at the polls, listening to focus groups.  The fact that these are the ads that those marketers concluded were the most cost-effective and efficient — having, as my marketer spouse has taught me, the highest R.O.I. — gives me hope.  Not so much hope that I am going to stop calling the Capitol Switchboard every day, but hope.

That’s the nut for today.