On Reflection

I’ve never been one to slog through enormous philosophical tomes, but were I to ever trudge through something that thick, I think I’d pick Aids to Reflection by Coleridge. Don’t get me wrong, I would probably enjoy a conversation with diehard fans of Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Barth. However, I’ve merely sampled them like most of us—I’m not one of those guys whose heart races when he sees a complete set of Tractates or Dogmatics or Institutes.

Coleridge strikes me differently because he’s a poet. As a poet, he seems to think that all poetry is philosophy and the only philosophy that matters is poetry. He writes his book for the studious Young at the close of their education or on their first entrance into the duties of manhood:

READER!—You have been bred in a land abounding with men, able in arts, learning, and knowledges manifold, this man in one, this in another, few in many, none in all. But there is one art, of which every man should master, the art of reflection. If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all?

Of course he’s appealing to the classic “rational animal” that Lewis and Chesterton both use as grounds for accepting the reality of a personal God who interacts with human history. Coleridge goes on to say:

Reflect on your own thoughts, actions, circumstance, and—which will be of special aid to you in forming a habit of reflection—accustom yourself to reflect on the words you use, hear, or read, their birth, derivation and history. For if words are not things they are living powers by which the things of most importance to mankind are actuated, combined and humanized.

He goes on to mention that the only way we can restore a commonplace truth, a common knowledge, a “common sense” to its uncommon luster, is if we translate it into action. We can only translate something into action if we reflect upon the truth, not merely consume it. In other words, common sense never exists as common sense until we reflect long upon it enough to make it uncommon.

This one thought made for all sorts of breakthroughs this last year in my personal and professional life—the idea that when I reflect, I bear infinitely more fruit than when I merely consume data.

Try reflecting on a handful of things today rather than trying to take in more and more and more information. I’m curious to see the results.

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