Before You Give, Think!

7 steps for critical reflection


Whatever my feelings towards Invisible Children’s work on Uganda, I can’t deny the remarkable splash the organization has made with Kony 2012, its recent awareness-raising video. The numbers say it all:  it was viewed by over 55 million people worldwide and raised $5 million in just two days.

And why was it a huge hit? One of the main reasons is the emotional effect it had on viewers.

We are often faced with information that pulls at our heartstrings and compels us to act for causes (RED campaign, Horn of Africa drought/famine, Darfur) that are bigger than and far from us. After reading such materials or viewing videos, our emotions often drive an immediate urge to act, to do something NOW!

These emotions should fuel our passion, BUT critical thought and reflection should drive our action.

Here is a short guide to processing that information in a meaningful and effective way, so that the emotional, financial, physical, and intellectual energy you expend in caring is well worth the effort. This process can take as little or much time as you need.

1.  View the video, article, picture…etc

2.  Walk away. Breathe. Whether it moved you in a good or adverse way, breathe. Briefly ask: “Why am I emotional/what exactly am I reacting to?”  Hold on to those emotions and give yourself time to turn them into strategic and thoughtful curiosity, information gathering, and the most important one, action.  

3. While still holding on to the inspiration of your emotions, ask yourself some questions:

  • What did I learn?
  • What did I NOT learn?
  • Who spoke? Who did NOT speak? What was missing?
  • What information have I gathered? Are there issues or pieces of information that I need to have a complete picture?

4. Turn your questions into key terms and search away. Remember to express gratitude to technology for bringing information to your finger-tips.

5. Process the new and additional information. Then ask more questions:

  • Now that I have a better picture, what can I do?
  • Who do I need to talk to?
  • What’s the right role for me? Why me?  
  • What will be my contribution or value add?

6. And Action. Once you’ve answered those questions, go on ahead and be a change seeker and maker.

7. Repeat process for all issues, calls, and campaigns.