Need the inward gaze

Need the inward gaze

Shelley Walia

I see around me a wide-ranging lack of collective commitment and social responsibility which begs the question: Are we conscientious in our input or is it that for years we have ended up playing truant with our responsibilities and falling below the levels expected of us? How often do we have the confidence to say our work is of no consequence and our labour of no tangible value?

My sense of deep disquiet might recall moments of recognition of what we have been really up to. Our anxieties and our guilt, our sudden bursts of aggression and professional jealousies, our fear of exposure, recognition of our substandard research speaks of a disposition gone murky or indifferent. The clerical work of meaningless rounds of meetings and constant pressures of answering mails and mindlessly correcting answer scripts results in abandoning serious reading and research lacking in originality. Perfidious with the task in hand, we while away our time manufacturing more disorder than order, more mediocrities than excellence.

Let me break the silence. I say silence because most of us refuse to talk of our inner selves; we are habituated to passing judgements on colleagues, but keep silent where our opinions are most needed. I have come across many who, apart from not writing anything of consequence, have never spoken in a meeting or intervened in a seminar. Going unprepared for a lecture or a meeting is integral to our chicanery or artifice. Research papers often end up in bins or find a place in a second-rate journal. The motivation is not quality research but meeting the conditions for promotion. Indeed, not for a moment do we speak of the downside of our involvement. Is it that we are deceptive and ineffective in a profession that least deserves us?

These hidden secrets are never aired; they remain buried in our mind and never find a space for scrutiny. We might share these truths with an intimate friend but never bring the hidden anxieties out into a free and open discussion. So for once, I call a turn of the gaze inwards at our pedagogical concerns and the sanctity of our pursuit, may it be, in liberal arts, social sciences or medicine. For a moment, if we stop using our critical senses on passing comments on a prescribed text or on each other, and engage in an analysis of our professional seriousness or the quality of our work, it might awaken us to the game we are playing in the classroom or in the political field.

In short, how might we begin to understand our weaknesses and the lack of excellence of our professional practice? A conversation about our inner feelings is vital to any progress or the quality of input, an honest expression of our desire to change through a deeply critical introspection, with the broad aim of understanding the much-needed self-renovation. It is a process of liberating ourselves through a process of reflection in the midst of a struggle progressive enough to create a new social order.

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