I can’t turn a corner without seeing evidence of what is now called the “wellness lifestyle” – the trend turned movement turned lifestyle that focuses in particular on the mind and soul. Imagery is just so peaceful, emphasizing a centered and solitary journey; language circles around the needed distance from others to “recharge” and “disconnect.” Like with any good branding, in these images and verbiage of empowered separateness is a promise: if you can focus on yourself, properly disengage and truly reflect, you will achieve personal growth.
In this promise is the underlying assumption that others not only don’t help in this process, but actively distract from being connected to our true selves, and that a higher level of reflection occurs only when one is alone. But this misses a critical insight about how to challenge ourselves and productively allow and invite personal growth.
In defining reflective practice and separating it from other types of thinking, the American philosopher John Dewey asserts that a rigorous process of “meaning-making” is contingent on engaging with others. Without formulating our experiences to others, and living in connection and community, we aren’t able to really reflect – while the self is important, “it is only significant as it connects to other elements.” And without adhering to a rigorous process and standard for productive reflection, Dewey warns that reflection risks becoming narcissistic.
Involving and engaging with others in our reflection process mirrors many of the principles of good decision-making. Most notably, it widens the frame of how we see situations. It ensures we don’t dismiss facts and emotions that could be important and helps us both affirm and question our emotions and behaviors. In naming what we are experiencing, we also begin the process of commitment and enlist support toward a shift in behavior or thinking. As Dewey defines, it, this “action step” toward personal growth is the critical last phase in the reflective process.
Do we need time alone to stay centered, gather our thoughts, and remain an introvert-friendly world? Absolutely, and I would never argue otherwise. It’s not that time alone doesn’t help us, but it does not alone equate to personal growth – and if we’re not careful, how we engage in this lifestyle can take us further away from what it promises. We simply can’t grow and change in a world of the extremes of constant connection and empowered solitude. Rather, it is imperative that we experience and actively incorporate social connection to grow.