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Reflection and Discernment Charisms

August 11, 2018

Living the Charism

Written by James R. Martin, Jr, PhD

As a Catholic, Jesuit university, the curricula of most programs at the university specifically use the Jesuit Charisms as a foundational element. The EdD program most certainly does. One particularly important charism is reflection and discernment. What is this, why is it important, and how does one practice it?

A person writing in a small notebook

What is Reflection and Discernment?

Reflection and discernment involves the careful consideration of positive, negative, or merely average events that have occurred in our lives (in the past, very recently, or right now) and our role and responsibility in such life happenings. It also involves the consideration of upcoming events, and how we might be our best selves in that circumstance.

Why are these tools important?

Without considering what happened, what my role was in the happening, what I did well, and what I did that wasn’t as helpful, I am constrained to what I call a “tactical” life. I react to situations on the fly, without thinking. This can result in poor outcomes, conflicts, and a litany of stressful situations that always seem to reemerge, regardless of the people involved or the specifics of the situation. By using reflection and discernment mindfully, I can increase my self-awareness – I can be more present for those around me – and I can, to the best of my ability, contribute in a positive manner rather than in a more selfish fashion.

How do I do this?

First, there’s a personal component to incorporating reflection and discernment, and second, there’s the academic nature of this practice within our program.

Personally, here’s how I use these tools. Each day, when I wake up, I write three pages. On these pages, I often write about what happened yesterday and what I’ve got coming up today – a list of tasks accomplished or tasks yet to come. Yet, I also might write about situations that made me happy, funny things that people said, ones that made me uncomfortable, or my hopes or worries about the future. Perhaps I might owe someone an apology, or maybe I need to reach out to someone who is struggling to lend an empathetic shoulder. I also write about what I might have done to improve the situation, or the people involved that I’m grateful for.

Getting this stuff on paper really helps me to live in the moment – rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. It’s been a huge help to me. The important thing to remember: it’s not just a list of tasks – nor is it just a list of things I’ve done well. It’s a more encompassing inventory of my role in the daily journey of life, what I’m grateful for, and how I might try to do better tomorrow.

In our classes, I encourage students in the EdD in Interdisciplinary Leadership program to use reflection in a similar way. Do not merely make a list of what you did in a class and how well you did it (although these elements are important). Also consider what challenged you, what you didn’t do so well, and how you might seek to improve moving forward. It’s not easy to use reflection and discernment – we are human beings and we, of course, cannot practice or execute anything perfectly all the time – but it’s well worth it in a journey towards a life of helping ourselves – and others – to be our best selves.

James Martin, JR.

James R. Martin, JR, PhD

Assistant Director and Associate Professor, EdD
Graduate School