A Time for Self-Reflection?

By: Dr. Karen Rezach, Director of the Ethics Institute

A few weeks ago, when a period of self-isolation and social distancing became a reality, I thought to myself, 

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I am going to intentionally spend time in self-reflection. Since I won’t have my usual “outlets” of working, commuting, exercising at the gym, going out to dinner, etc.,  I will instead focus on my “inlet” – my inner self. I will take the time to reflect on the values that are most important to me, the purpose of my life, where I am and where I hope to go.”

I even purchased a book, “The Power of Silence” to guide me in my journey of self reflection.

And so the journey began…

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But my time of self-reflection quickly turned into hours of virtual meetings, text and email messages from friends and family members struggling with the isolation and uncertainty, social media posts that feature instructions on how to make masks and how to safely wash the items brought home from the grocery store. 

During my “down time” I find myself turning on the news. However, every time I turn on the news, the experience of watching it reminds me of taking a ride on a wild roller coaster: stories of the current death toll are followed by stories about heroism and altruism. Suggestions to go out and get “fresh air and exercise” are followed by the announcement of the closure of state and county parks.  I shake my head trying to find a moment of normalcy. And then come the calls from friends telling me about other friends who have died of the virus, or expressing concern for elderly parents, or confiding in their feelings of extreme loneliness.

Yesterday, while in the midst of balancing my virtual meetings and processing news of the death of someone I knew, I had a moment of self-reflection when I realized I really haven’t been self-reflective at all. Instead of spending the quiet time with myself that I had imagined only a few short weeks ago, instead, I find myself filling the uncertainty with one task after another, perhaps trying to maintain some semblance of the life that was, and in the process losing sight of processing all that IS in these very difficult moments. 

I shared this frustration with my colleagues via this email: 

I am writing and reading tons of email messages from people, including myself, who know of people who have now died from the virus. People, including me, are SAD!!! Some are scared out of their wits!

And yet, we plow on, with hundreds (literally) of email messages, text messages and virtual meetings. Very unhealthy – processing loss, living in a pandemic, and adjusting to life in quarantine. 

How much are we supposed to expect from each other, as human beings?

People are having trouble handling all of this – and these are the adults that I am talking about. 

What do we expect from our students?? We talk about mental and emotional and physical and spiritual health during this pandemic, but are we actually doing something about it when we don’t lessen expectations?

So what’s next?

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The responses to my email “rant” made me realize that I am not alone in my feelings of being overwhelmed, tired, irritated and uncertain. I am also not alone in feeling pressure to “keep up” with expectations. But if I want time for self-reflection, then I am the only one who can make that time.

So this is what I am going to do:

  • Lessening expectations at this time does not mean failure; instead, it means re-prioritizing in a historical and unprecedented time of uncertainty and unrest.
  • The value that I must consider most is the value of self-reflection, of listening to myself, of taking the time to “step away” and take stock of life – my life and our collective life – as it is right now.
  • The text and email messages, the meetings, the news, the social media posts – they will all still be here when this pandemic ends. But understanding myself and my reactions during this pandemic experience can only happen now.
  • I will value myself enough to set aside daily time for self-reflection and rest. This is the “expectation” that will ultimately reap the greatest reward.