Practice, Reflection, Repeat

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New Year’s is typically a time for reflection; evaluating the past year and looking into the next with resolve. Reflecting on New Year’s 2017, however, sunk many of us into a funk. How could what’s happening in the US actually be happening?

When my 25 year-old said, “I’m really scared about what’s going on”, I searched for something beyond “Me too” to encourage her. I told her that when I was a kid, our small black and white TV screens were filled with grainy scenes of tumult in the US, and that democracies not only survive turbulence, they can thrive on it.

It also helped to point to now former President, Barack Obama, whose consistent message throughout his presidency and now, is to take the long view. In the days immediately after the election, Obama spoke of how “the path in this country has never been in a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is moving forward and others think is moving back. And that’s OK …”.

In his farewell address, Obama made it clear that “taking the long view” did not mean being passive. Americans needed to be vigilant and engaged in countering threats to democracy and “principles, such as the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly and an independent press.” His advice: “Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose…”

Well, we did show up. All across the globe, remarkable crowds of diverse people with diverse motivations showed up. I couldn’t make it to Washington, DC, but I did make it to the Women’s March in Toronto the day after the inauguration, along with thousands of others. It was a heady and inspiring experience, and I hope, the first of many peaceful demonstrations. As with anything else, though, there are lessons to be learned – what worked, what didn’t, how can we have a greater impact? And how can we better seek to understand, and then to be understood?

Progress as a society, an organization, or as an individual, whether it be personal or professional, takes time and sustained effort and action. I think of some of the skills taught in our programs at OsgoodePD – written and oral advocacy, persuasion, negotiation, mediation, presentation and legal and scholarly writing, to name a few. These are complex, demanding skills that can be improved dramatically over a lifetime of practice and reflection. I’m in the lucky position of seeing some of the most skilled professionals in these areas in action. I am often struck by how the most skilled are usually the most aware that the work of practice, reflection, and repeat is never done.

Reflection itself is not passive. There are many guides for reflection out there; here’s one that has been helpful to me, from Bill Joiner’s The Guide to Agile Leadership (2009):

  • Am I focusing on what’s most important right now?
  • Who else has a stake in my initiative, and how can I work with them to make it successful?
  • What non-routine obstacles do I face, and how can I be imaginative in resolving them?
  • What can I learn from the conversation, the project, or the day I’ve just completed?

My wish for all of us in this New(ish) Year, is that we’ll combine reflection with practice, have patience with ourselves and others, and that by this time next year we’ll have seen progress.

Assistant Dean and Executive Director, OsgoodePD

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