One of the key activities of the psyche is to reflect on events and experiences. If we have no reflection, we act on passions and impulses that then do not have the advantage of being processed by the mind, references to memory and history and personal and social culture in general. It is this cultural background that civilizes us, which means we can live in community because we can process our feelings and enthusiasms. Reflection makes our strong emotions available for life with others, so that we live by emotion and reflection as two coordinating activities that support each other.
Ancient writers taught that it is the psyche or soul that makes us human—not our passions and not our visionary ideals. This is especially true of the power of psyche to reflect—it humanizes. Currently, our world is largely coming apart in many ways precisely because we don’t reflect effectively and don’t consider how the soul plays a role in our daily lives, giving us our humanity and human community.
How do we reflect? By having deep conversations with people with whom we interact, by reading penetrating analysis of events offered by our gifted commentators, writers and journalists, by comparing our actions to some guiding text that expresses our values, such as the American Constitution, for some the Bible and others the Q’ran, or some favored and honored teacher, such as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, or a secular writer who has depth and acute understanding—perhaps Emerson, Thoreau or Emily Dickinson.
Reflection makes us human by focusing our passions on creative expression and human relationship. It should be part of every day’s activities and done with care and intelligence. It’s important to read, look at visual art, listen to thoughtful music, meet with friends for weighty conversation, hold meetings in a business to reflect on how things are going. Our political and business leaders especially need opportunities for deep reflection so they don’t get carried away by narrow partisan enthusiasms and self-interest.
Of course, for society to learn the value of reflection and the means to accomplish it, young students at all levels of educations need good experiences of reflection and guidance toward making it an essential part of their lives. We are in trouble in our world today because we act too quickly and blindly on our passions and unreflected thoughts. Reflection offers depth and gives each of us the deep human culture we need to live happy and fully human lives together.