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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Respect for the introspective

The thoughts in this post were inspired by a recent article I read in the Huffington Post:

The article is written by a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal.  She talks about her experiences and how the Peace Corps taught her the true meaning of failure and learning to accept it as a normal part of life.  Here are some thoughtful quotes from the article itself:

"One benefit of the program that is never trumpeted (and likely never will be) is that it produces a group of young Americans who understand failure."

"Americans are immature when it comes to honestly accepting failure and maybe that's why so many of us lack the emotional depth to make sense of it" 

"Our hyped-up expectations of success are often quashed--we learn quickly that smaller is better." 

"I survived two years in the Peace Corps. My proudest accomplishment during my time in Senegal, one that can't be expressed on a résumé, is how much I grew up."

The focus of this post is NOT to comment further on the author's ideas and provide my own thoughts on the meaning of failure (perhaps this is a post for another time).  My focus is on the author herself and my respect for individuals that are able to live through an experience and be an ACTIVE and analytic participant. What I mean by this is that in addition to going through an experience, such individuals attempt to take a step back and analyze what actually happened.  They ask questions such as "Why did I act in such a way?", "Why am feeling so ashamed or sad or satisfied with myself right now?", "Why did this person react the way they did towards me? Was their reaction justified or irrational and out of my control?" and "What could I do differently the next time I find myself in a similar situation?"  These are just examples and there are numerous other questions and thoughts that can go through this individual's head.  The overall theme here is that this individual is being introspective and attempting to analyze and think about what occurred. He is not being a passive participant of what is happening to him.

For instance, in the posted article, this particular volunteer could have simply made a laundry list of her failures and described her experiences at a superficial level. She could have made no attempts to draw out lessons learned or the potential effects of her experiences on her personal growth and ideas. From personal experience, A LOT of people are satisfied with such low-level descriptions that lack analysis or introspection.  I don't think there is anything wrong with such an approach but an individual is not reaching his full potential if he stays passive like this his whole life.  Sooner or later he has to realize that he needs to challenge himself and actually THINK.

Ultimately, this is why I respect introspective story-tellers.  They go above and beyond simply reporting the facts.  They analyze.  They think.  They provide hypotheses. They dig deeper.  They actively attempt to learn from what they go through.  

I learn immensely from such individuals and I truly am lucky to have such people in my life.  I hope I continue to meet such thoughtful and analytic folks and grow as a person in the process. 

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