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Wednesday 22 January 2020
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De-cluttering: Journey towards critical thinking

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An important part of the doctoral studies process is to unpack, to de-clutter. This isn’t taught. At least not in the way that I eventually learnt it. And I suspect that for many people pursuing PhD studies, clutter is one that they journey through until the epiphany happens some years into the process. I say this with some authority, having had friends in the past and present approach me with the question, "How do you do this? I can’t seem to find an angle in all this reading." Or "My brain just shut down. It feels so overwhelming that I can’t seem to focus although I should know this material."

They come from diverse subject backgrounds but the one thing that remains consistent is that such studies requires the student to find a thread and follow it through. The jargon of academic practice is often burdensome, an added burden on students trying to balance reading material, assignments and finding some form of newness that changes the way we think about things.

In my own studies, one day, sitting among some papers and books I realised, "Wait! There are particular terms that keep coming up in everyone’s work." As simple as that is, it was profound after almost a year of attempting to steer my way through cultural theory. Thus began the process of decluttering.

Bit of advice: Read and live. It isn’t by sitting behind a desk that we find the novel ideas. Those ideas really come from living, from developing a heightened awareness of our experiences and what they mean to us. Whether the subject is science or arts, the process is the same. To weave your experience and observations into the given body of work.

I’ve been recently looking at advertisements for travel bags and backpacks. Seems that the standard test for durability is stabbing the bag with a knife or ice pick and throwing water over it. Finding myself getting a bit irritated by these dramatic I turned to my friend with whom I am planning my next escape, and asked,

"Think that works for people too?"

She burst into laughter.

“You!”

The point of the example is to make the point about the thread and your own spin. Stabbing and water is the common thread. Wondering whether such a test for durability works for people too, is also about deciding for yourself what makes sense and what doesn’t. Of course, sometimes a huge dose of scepticism helps a great deal in developing the ability to think critically.

The idea of clutter is on my mind this week as Christmas is upon us and the mad rush to spend is on, as is the pressure to measure up with the gift-giving. I think of this need to reduce clutter as I think about minimalism. The development of minimalism is fuelled by the urgency of extracting ourselves from noise and bustle.

But an even more overarching concern that relates to clutter is the impending election. The local government elections were a reminder that national elections are closing in.

How we eventually vote is about really separating ourselves from the noise of history, the clatter and bang of PhDs, of sugarcane and rocks and shifting plates and what not and focus in on the general physical infrastructure of this space. To focus on the systems that are not functioning and those that are. To recognise that we are the ones who can make our lives better. It is to ask the important questions. What’s in it for all of us. It is to take ourselves out of the "What’s in it for me?" to "…us."

Over the last year, too many close friends and friends of friends have fallen victim to fatal illnesses and lost their lives. Each time death occurs, it causes me to question the sense of all of this. It is to come face to face with relationships that do nothing to bring us happiness, that do nothing to make us better versions of ourselves, and eliminating them and to keep the ones that bring us closer to our own authenticity.

But it is also about us being able to develop individually and not give this power to anyone else. I cannot ignore the posts on social media as people attempt to calm the noise by posting self-help quotes and quotes on life, yet persist in useless voting behaviours.

As far as I am concerned, our national health and wellness depends on us realising that we are involved in a relationship with the State. And if we think about it that way, the noise of inherited habits begins to lessen as we sit to observe and make informed decisions with the knowledge that we have.

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