Random Reflection

This is a space for any random reflective ideas I happen to have!

Unhelpful criticism

posted Dec 27, 2010, 2:37 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Dec 27, 2010, 2:52 PM ]

This past semester I tried to visit the Boston.com website at least once a day for news.  At some point I also started reading the comments people leave on stories.

I've done that in the past, but I made much more of a habit of it than before, and it's been interesting.

I'm constantly struck by how thoughtless, simplistic and unhelpful most of the comments are.

Most of the comments, on almost any article, are similar to one or more of these:

-This is because the Democrats/Republicans are evil/stupid, and anyone that agrees with them is a jerk.

-If this person worked harder/was smarter/wasn't a loser/was more like me they wouldn't have any problems.

-I don't have that problem, so it must not be real/serious

There are easy answers for all life's issues, and I know what they are.

-I love this person, thank goodness there are republicans/democrats/people I agree with who are trying to save America.

-The comment you just made proves you are an idiot


The sad part is I find myself responding to these comments with annoyance or anger, and have an instinctive desire to respond with my own comments along the line of "You're a big poopy head."  Which would only contribute to the negative and unproductive tone of the other comments.

It's not surprising that so many of the comments are so negative and thoughtless.  I've read several things that say that online comments are especially prone to nastiness.  Just in general, as human beings we tend towards thoughtless discourse; it's easier, and doesn't challenge us to learn or grow.

So I try to use the comments as a reminder not to fall into the pattern of thoughtless nastiness.  I try to practice a kind of dialogue-driven reading, where I try to take in the comments and understand what the person is trying to say, how their perspective is different than mine, and what kind of response I could make that would contribute to a meaningful conversation.

It's hard; I find myself getting caught up in the shallowness,and having my own shallow response.

I never actually post comments; I don't think there's much point in anonymous comment sections, but it's a good thinking exercise for me.

Also, I should acknowledge that there are probably lots of people who like the tone of the comments, and think that's what comment sections are for.  It's quite likely/possible that I'm the unusual one for wishing for something deeper.

Starting to reflect again? - October 28, 2010 - 3:40 AM

posted Oct 28, 2010, 12:40 AM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Oct 28, 2010, 12:55 AM ]

After a loooong time, I am actually doing some reflection again.

I've actually been writing about this process in a few different places, but this is the first time the process is breaking onto the website.

This morning I did my first morning pages in a long time, and my first creative entry (which for me is part of the reflective process).  It feels like I'm unblocking something I've been cut off from.  After withdrawing from reflection, avoiding introspection, I'm trying to come back to it, to embrace it, to make it part of my routine, with the ultimate goal of becoming a true reflective practitioner.

In this exact moment I feel really excited about the idea, almost light headed about the possibilities.  But I know from experience that the challenge is to stay engaged, to keep consistently investing the time and energy necessary to make it an integral part of my life.  It's so easy for me to avoid it, to put my energy into less meaningful things, or worse, to let my energy just evaporate away into the universe, losing all the potential it represents.

Although I've been thinking about this for some time, I had one particular experience which I feel like has triggered a breakthrough for me.  This week in the CCT writing group Michael asked us to write about what we feel passionate about, and I realized that I didn't have anything to write.

This came as a shocking realization to me.  While I rarely use the word "passion," in the past I've always thought of myself as someone who was sincerely excited about life, and I always strove to be deeply engaged with the world in my own subtle, soft-spoken sort of way.  

But in that moment I realized that although I feel better now than during the problems this summer (which may be too personal to go into here), I'm still not fully engaged with my life.  Instead I've kind of been cruising along, doing the basics, but in a numb, thoughtless sort of way.  I'm doing what needs to be done, but my spark, my energy, has been muted.

That came as a real wake-up call, and encouraged me to do what I've been intending to so since the new semester started, specifically, to reboot my creative and reflective process.

So this is my first small step in that.  It isn't easy, and I always struggle to follow through, but if I'll keep trying.

Amazing Podcast - Whale Songs and Elephant Loves - Speaking of Faith, American Public Media

posted Jan 24, 2010, 3:38 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 24, 2010, 3:41 PM ]

I just heard an amazing podcast that was deeply touching.  This is the link:

I was so moved I felt the need to write to the show.  This is what I sent in:

I just listened to the unedited interview Krista Tippett did with Katy Payne.  It is one of the most beautiful conversations I have ever had the privilege to hear.

In one conversation Krista and Katy seamlessly range from whale song to the environment to dance to poverty to friendship to silence to war to Elephant song and beyond.  In the peaceful ebb and flow of that dialogue they caught something deep and profound about humanity and nature.

I feel grateful that people like Krista and Katy are in the world, doing work that both gives us insight into humanity and helps reconnect us to nature.  It inspires me to think about how I can make my own positive contribution to the world.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 - Some Meta-Reflection

posted Jan 21, 2010, 7:17 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 21, 2010, 7:38 PM ]

Obviously, I've been thinking a lot about reflection lately.  One of the central goals of this site is to help me incorporate reflection into my life, to help me become a true "reflective practitioner."

As part of that process I've been thinking about how I engage in reflection, and the essence of reflection in general.

In terms of the essence of reflection, I think I should put up some sort of rational for why reflection is important, and what it means to me to try and become a reflective practitioner.  That would be valuable in two ways.  First, it would help me begin clarifying my hopes for the process.  Second, it would help me engage in discussion with others about reflection and it's importance.  Society in general doesn't place a high value on reflection, and to most people the idea of reflective practice is largely meaningless.

Hence, laying out some statement about the importance of reflection, and why I want to incorporate it in my life, would be valuable both for my internal understanding and my ability to engage with others.  I'll have to think about the best way to craft such a statement.

I've also been reflecting on my own reflective process.  I noticed that a lot of my reflection looks at the past.  People I've known, places I've lived, life experiences that have led me to where I am.

I enjoy all of those reflections, and I think they have tremendous value, but I also want to make sure I'm making time and space to reflect both on what's happening now and what might happen in the future.

I'm not completely neglecting the present and future.  I post thoughts in the Notes from My Life section of the site, and I do morning pages (a sort of journal) in a notebook everyday.  I also do posts like this.

But I wonder where the balance of reflecting on the past, present and future lays.  All three are closely intertwined, but it could be easy to miss that connection if I get too focused any one of them.  

My guess is that there is no "perfect" balance, and that a really meaningful approach to reflection spans the entire spectrum, depending on the needs and influences of the moment.  It's definitely something to think about as I go through the process.

Tuesday, January 19 - 2010 - Podcast - "The Philosophy of Good Intentions"

posted Jan 19, 2010, 9:33 AM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 19, 2010, 4:05 PM ]

I posted this on the CCT Ning, and thought I'd post it here as well.

This is a really interesting podcast that looks at the psychology, philosophy and neuroscience of 

human intentions. I feel like it takes a very CCT approach to philosophy in general and the concept 

of human intentions specifically.

It's from Australian Public Radio, and you can listen to it straight from the page:


Friday, January 15, 2010 - Progress on Goals

posted Jan 15, 2010, 8:12 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 15, 2010, 10:15 PM ]

As of tomorrow it will have been three weeks since I set some goals for myself about regular creativity/reflection (you can find that post here).  I've often heard that it takes three weeks to establish new habits, so I thought I'd check in about my progress.

First, I've been thinking about this project more and more as being about establishing new habits, rather than reaching goals.  It feels clear that I'm not working to a final product/goal, as much as I'm trying to incorporate new, meaningful habits.

The language shift is also supported by a website I've been using to help me in the process.  The site is called Joe's Goals, and it describes itself as a free habit tracker.  The site is simple, but effective, and I love it!  You make a list of goals/habits you want to work on, and then give yourself checks or minuses on a daily basis to document your progress.  It's easy and flexible, and I find it very motivating to give myself a check.  It also tracks how you've done over time, and it's exciting to see the checks add up.

So over the three weeks I've adapted my goals/habits.  Here's what I have right now:

Morning pages: daily - I've now done 25 days straight, without missing, which is great!
Creativity - 15 minutes at a time - 4 days a week (Su,Tu,Th,Sa) - I've completed a chain of twelve (as in, I've done it twelve times)
Mini-journal - 3 days a week (M, W, F) - A chain of 10
Reflection - 15 minutes at a time - 4 days a week (Su, M, W, F) - A chain of 12
Social Outreach - sending messages to reconnect - 4 days a week (Su, Tu, Th, Sa) - A chain of 10
Exercise - 4 times a week - 0

Those were all ones I've posted before.  Here are new ones I added:

Don't spend excess money
No caffeine - I've only had caffeine once in the last 26 days!
No eating out
Consume minimal sugar
Walk to/from the train

For these newer ones I'm keeping track of them, but I'm also allowing flexibility.  So it's ok to spend money periodically, or to have a soda or a candy in moderation.  I don't have to walk to/from the train, but if i do it's worth a check.

The only goal I haven't touched at all is exercise.  I've been rationalizing this from the point of view that I'm eating healthier than I ever have before, and I've been focusing my energy on eating better and cooking, rather than exercise.  I definitely need to exercise, but it's also understandable that I can only work on so many goals at once.

Overall I feel like I'm making some progress.  I still have a ways to go before I really internalize all of these things, but I think I'm moving in the right general direction.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - Relationships

posted Jan 3, 2010, 10:53 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 3, 2010, 11:12 PM ]

I added a new goal to my self-development goals.  At least three times a week I want to send notes/messages, something to people I know or used to know.  I think of it as my "relationships" goal.

In this effort, Facebook is my friend!  Something about the dynamic nature of Facebook makes it feel more natural and less intimidating for me to reach out to people.

Because that's definitely my issue.  I'm terrible at maintaining relationships with people.  I tend to get along with the people I'm interacting with through work or outside activities (classes, community service, etc.), but I've never been good at staying in touch with people I used to know.

I think this is affected, at least in part, by a combination of my natural introversion and the fact that I moved around a lot growing up.

One one hand, I'm introverted.  I like people, I really like people!  I enjoy hearing hearing people's stories, learning about their lives.  I enjoy the quirky characteristics that everyone has.

But it takes energy for me to focus on people, to socialize.  That's what I think of as the major difference between extroverts and introverts.  It's not whether or not you like people (I know both extroverts and introverts that don't like really like other people, however they act in public), it's where you get energy from.  I get energy from being by myself.  Even socializing with people I really care about takes a certain amount of energy.  So social outreach is one of the first things I put off when I get busy/tired/stressed.

On the other hand, I've never really had any long term relationships.  Growing up we moved every two or three years.  I got used to just letting people go.  It didn't mean I didn't like people, or that I didn't value the impact they had on me, or that I didn't remember our time together.  I just never developed the habits that keep relationships current.  I got used to liking people and then letting them go as I moved on.

I don't necessarily regret either of those factors.  I'm happy being an introvert, and I coped with moving the best way I knew how.  But now I'm trying to get better at maintaining relationships, of keeping some contact with folks.  Nothing dramatic; I don't expect to stay best friends with everyone forever.  But I'd like to keep the door open to the occasional hello, the on and off check in, the random get together; all the things that keep relationships alive over time.

It's an experiment for me, and we'll see how it goes.  Again, I find Facebook a great fit for my style; it's quick and easy to have low-impact but still valuable interactions; little validations, little comments, short messages.  In addition to intentionally sending people more substantial messages, I'm trying to be more present on Facebook, offering little comments, responding to jokes, keeping up with people's lives at least a little bit.

Facebook is also a very  forgiving medium.  Sending an email to someone I haven't talked to in months feels awkward.  But randomly commenting on something they post on Facebook, or forwarding them a link they might like, feels like a casual, low pressure way to reach out.

We'll see how it goes.  I'm not looking to make a radical change to my life; I'll never be an especially social person.  But even maintaining a few more relationships over time would be nice.

Saturday, January 2, 2010 - Happy New Year!

posted Jan 2, 2010, 5:52 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Jan 2, 2010, 6:20 PM ]

This is my first reflection for the new year, so I should probably do some reflection about that...

I've never really been into new year resolutions.  There's something about putting so much emphases on one specific date/time that doesn't work for me.  On one hand it's too much pressure (Get the New Year Right!), and on the other, it's too sporadic; it only comes once a year!

I tend to make my resolutions on a ongoing basis, which has it's own disadvantages, but works better for me.

I do like the idea of recognizing the passage of time and marking milestones, and from that perspective I do find New Year's very meaningful.  It's funny though; I appreciate New Year's, and I had a really fun New Year's eve this year, but the actual changing of the year doesn't feel as powerful for me this year as it has at times in the past.

I think part of that is that I've acclimated to the higher education calendar; the year starts in September and ends in May (with June-August as a sort of renewal/transitional period).  September and May both tend to be very reflective for me, as I think of another year of work or school having come or gone.

I think there's more than my higher ed focus at work though.  This past semester has felt very moving, very important for me.  I went through (and am still going through) a deep reflective period.  I started shaping a new direction for my life.  I set goals for my personal, spiritual, physical and professional growth.  A process of change and renewal started this past semester and is still happening.  It is a change that feels profound and deep.

Somehow the process that has already started takes some of the emphasis off the new year.  I'm trying to make reflection and renewal an ongoing process, something I do on a continual basis, not something limited to specific days or events.  

That doesn't mean it's not a good idea to put extra time and energy into reflection when certain milestones come around.  Anything that encourages me to reflect is valuable.  But now it feels more like milestones are part of a larger, ongoing process, connected to what came before and what's coming next, rather than isolated, one-time events.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - Another Great Podcast

posted Dec 30, 2009, 8:55 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Dec 30, 2009, 8:57 PM ]

I posted this on the CCT Network, and thought I'd post it here as well.  The podcast was amazing!

This is about a neuroscientist and her experience having a stroke. She combines neoroscience, reflection, philosophy (she's very metacognitive) and joy (I interpreted it as creativity) to tell the story of her experience.

It was played on a great Canadian podcast called Tapestry. You can listen to it straight from the site.

Here's the link and the description.


Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who had a stroke at the age of 37. The injury to her brain caused her to temporarily lose the ability to talk, read and write. But it gave her a new understanding of human consciousness, and of her own place in the universe. Today, Taylor has fully recovered. She tells her story in the book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, and in a much-watched video.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - Podcasts and Such

posted Dec 30, 2009, 6:00 PM by Jeremy Poehnert   [ updated Dec 30, 2009, 6:24 PM ]

So, one of my favorite things to do is listen to podcasts.  I LOVE listening to podcasts.  They are my major source of news and a tremendous source of entertainment for me.

One of the things I've been thinking about lately is how I listen to podcasts.  I tend to go through phases.  I've gone through phases where I listen to business/economy shows, current event shows, reflective/spirituality/religious shows, technology shows, political shows and funny shows, among others.

Each phase follows a certain pattern.  I get interested in a topic (the economy, current events, politics, etc.) and look around the web to find shows on that topic.  I start by casting a wide net, subscribing to a lot more shows about a topic then I'll actually listen to, and then narrow my focus down to a few favorites in that genre.  Then I add those favorites to the collection of shows I listen to on a regular basis, and stop following the rest.

These phases last different periods of time, ranging from days to months, based on how interested I am in the topic, and how many podcasts around that topic seem interesting.

What does this have to do with reflection?  I was looking back at these different phases, and realized, somewhat belatedly, how they connect with whatever my life circumstances of the moment are.  The podcasts I'm interested in or attracted to tend to reflect whatever issues I'm thinking about.

I started listening to podcasts for news and entertainment, which is how I consistently use them, and what I think of as my "baseline."  But then I become especially interested in specific topics based on what is happening in my life.

When my wife and I separated (to eventually get divorced) I went through a phase of listening to very reflective and spiritual podcasts, which makes sense because I was questioning the direction my life was headed.

When I lost my job I listened to business/economy podcasts, wondering if i would ever find another job, and how long my retirement money and/or unemployment would last.

When my old computer started breaking down, and I started thinking about both the need for a new computer, and doing more computing in the "cloud" (ie, using online resources, like Google Sites, which powers this site!), I started listening to more technology podcasts.

This past semester, when I was starting to really enjoy my classes, and feel more in touch with my own creativity and sense of fun, I started listening to podcasts that were fun!

And recently I've started re-listening to reflective/spiritual podcasts I haven't listened to in a while, which is what made me think of this topic.  The last time I really got into those kinds of podcasts was when my marriage was ending, which was a period of crisis.  As I recovered from that I kept listening to my favorites, as part of my general mix.  But when I lost my job I largely stopped listening to them.  Looking back on that, it seems weird.  But I think at that time I felt too raw, too sensitive to open myself up to really deep reflection.  I'm easily touched by powerful stories, and I just couldn't handle that kind of intense emotion.  So I pulled away from those kinds of shows.

Now I'm not in crisis, but I feel much more engaged with my creativity and my reflective side, and I feel drawn back to shows that nurture and support that energy, that help me explore those feelings.  Now, rather than use those shows for comfort, I use them for inspiration and encouragement.

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