What do we mean by praxis?

“Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed—even in art—the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis.” --Paulo Freire

Praxis—the synthesis of reflection and action. As Paulo Freire so eloquently put, one cannot exist without the other. But in order to reflect meaningfully, in order to gain a more authentic understanding of ourselves and the world around us, we must let go of the incessant need to be right that is so common in the modern world.

Kathryn Schulz, the world’s leading “wrongologist,” notes in her TED talk that as early as grade school we are taught that only “dimwits” get things wrong, and the way to be successful is to avoid all mistakes. This is a dangerous teaching to live by. Why question our beliefs if we know we’re right? Why examine the world any further, if we already know how it operates? 

The world is remarkably complex, and consequently replete with complicated problems. Complicated problems require complicated, nuanced solutions. Like Kathryn, the economist Tim Harford emphasizes that asserting our own faultlessness may be comforting, but always leads to perfunctory behavior. He calls this conviction the “God complex,” and asserts that this belief in our own infallibility must be abandoned.

Shallow reflection often simply leads to superficial learning. A deep and honest assessment of our values, belief, and experiences is challenging—as is anything that questions our views. But in order to gain a more authentic understanding of who we are, how we are connected, and the purpose(s) of it all, sincere reflection is necessary. It is through the intertwining of meaningful contemplation and deliberate action that praxis is achieved.

 

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