I’ll tell you now, it doesn’t have a grand ending.
What does it look like?
It looks like a conversation where you are uncomfortable because you need to state your values and your “truths” in ways you’ve taken for granted for a long time. You are uncomfortable because while these truths have guided your life and run in parallel to your decisions forever, you now have to say WHY and HOW they are true… possibly encountering that moment where you might have been wrong, or even just a little off, for a long time.
You are uncomfortable because you have to grapple with the externalities of decisions and systems that we all have to ignore from time to time to continue being optimistic about the future and to argue things will improve because we’re learning as we go. But there are externalities to every decision and we have to take responsibility for our decisions, right?
It looks like watching someone else grapple with this discomfort, both of you constantly fighting moments where you can see that switch that allows you to listen and be uncomfortable, or turn it off and stop listening, congratulate yourself for “being right.”
The uncomfortable is an important place for you both to play, and here you can empathize with each other. Maybe it’s a moment where you can both be wrong in different ways and come out with a better formulated argument and a backbone to your decisions that mean you are willing to acknowledge the externalities of your decisions head on.
What did it feel like for me last week?
I think I “won.” I say this because I had a goal: address the fake news problem with someone close to me. The conversation went terribly at first. I introduced the Washington Post piece investigating a fake news site. The response was: I try to read both sides of every argument. This completely deflected from the central issue, which was that this person was arguing with citations from fake news websites regularly. I had to explain why some news sources were “good” and others were “bad.” I also had to grapple with my daily philosophical meltdown of “what is truth?” The other person had to grapple with the fact that maybe their well intended research was faulty and they had been caught doing bad research. It was uncomfortable for both of us.
I was trying to do my job as a professional fact checker to right my corner of the universe and be helpful, but it seemed like it backfired and the gulf between us grew.
I left this conversation feeling defeated, but a few days later I noticed this person fact checking and tagging fake news sites in the comments on their friends’ Facebook pages… the same sites they’d been citing in arguments against me the week before. Maybe this was a quiet moment of “victory.” I smiled to myself, acknowledged what was taking place, and kept scrolling. I think we both grew from it.
Maybe then this mission into the “uncomfortable” was worth it. And now it’s time to try it again… maybe with harder issues. But I acknowledge that if I want to go there, I also need to be better prepared to be wrong and uncomfortable.
If government represents who we are and what we value now, then civil society and institutions are responsible for exploring and articulating visions for what we could be, who we might become as a community.
I would love to hear other people’s reactions to this, especially as I explore it further through specific case studies.
I took a few days to think about and gather myself, asking, what comes next? What happens now? A few things, naturally. But one of the things I took away from a conversation this morning that is helping me re-center as a researcher and activist are these two questions:
What are my values when I think about the society I want to build and live in?
As I am now and what I can become, what role can I play in creating that society?
Maybe what frightens me most is how clearly this election went way off the rails in terms of any sort of clear discussion about values. Do we want to build an equal society? Do we want to distribute resources such that everyone can compete on an equal playing field? Do we want to grow at any cost (because maybe there are still people who believe trickle down economics work… it’s doesn’t). I want to start here, as I reaffirmed some of my values this morning at Trinity Wall Street.
I think every concrete solution requires some compromises, but what are the truths we want to fight for and focus on as we rebuild our communities. I am not sure I could tell you where Trump or anyone on his team derive their values. I pray that this regime is not as dangerous as the troop of mercenaries (meaning, without a guiding northern light of a philosophy or set of values) that they seem to be. I hope we can push this government or at least the civilian communities in political life to be more explicit in restating and clarifying our values.
I has an important conversation this afternoon where we asked the question: Do we design a government for who we are now or who we could be? What if government was designed with space to grow into what we strive to become? What if there was an ideal (or, more realistically, a set of ideals) and we created space for that growth, reflection, and critique of ourselves? What would that society look like, and what would the practice be like on the individual and community levels.
An activist I admire argues that the best way to participate politically is to show up with your skill set and offer to help. What can you do to push the conversation and effort further, because not everyone should show up and community organize. Movements need fundraisers to support the community, they need a web presence and a good designer to help reach new audiences. They need writers to record their message and history. There are many ways to participate.
Now more than ever, I am reminded that civil society is part of the political conversation as much as government is, and there are so many ways to participate. We created salons 4 years ago to push our conversations about feminism and equal rights beyond our classrooms and create a place for people to ask hard questions and learn about morality, how to negotiate, friendships, and other things that we sometimes suffer through on our own. Creating community is political, we are organizing, and it is necessary. We are stronger and better equipped for debate and building new ideas when we are working together. Perhaps it is most toxic to the system when we decide not to participate or continue learning at all. And these conversations in our community can take many forms… maybe even just visions of what the future could look like for our communities, or meeting new people in your neighborhood and city, attending local events by artists or religious institutions or universities, etc.
Beyond that, I think I can contribute as a researcher, offering ideas and studies where communities have trouble competing with well-funded think tanks. Too many histories fall off the charts because they aren’t recorded in the detail they deserve, their impact goes unmeasured, unnoticed. I want to be part of fixing this problem too. But I think I need to spend a little more time thinking through the vision for my next few years as an activist and (everything else that I am).
That’s where I am for today.
(Burrowing Owls Header, Image credit to Shell Game on Flickr, Cape Coral, FL; 17 Feb 2012)
I’m exploring what it means to be a researcher (and fact checker) during and after this election cycle. Especially if this is a “post-fact world.”
I want to argue now that we’re not so much “post-fact” as we are missing and ignoring a lot of information. I’m inspired by Rebecca’s Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, which reminds us that progress is a long conversation, not a quick series of victories. And hope for me is a collection of smaller moments… so I want to share what makes me hopeful and how I think we can heal post election.
Facts are useful tools, they are not the end game. Proving “truth” alone does not mean healthy communities, because we need to meet people as people and we haven’t done that especially well these last few years. Especially when we move away from a system that creates bridges and listens and into one that ignores our communities when they ask for help. A crucial part of our healing process after this election is to listen and understand where our communities are afraid and where they are hopeful. THEN we can use facts to build solutions that meet these needs.
I am recalibrating my goals as a professional researcher and fact checker in media to serve this wider purpose. How do we listen, identify the existing problems and concerns, and then use facts to build solutions rather than silence immediately. As background, I was very anxious while following the election coverage for most of this spring and summer. It felt like this:
I cut myself off from more than a few minutes of NPR every morning because even a moment of engaging with the “logic” presented by the Trump campaign made me feel crazy. I had to take some time off from election coverage for the first election since I was really little. This was the first year I wasn’t planning GOTV efforts, phone banking, and studying candidate policies whenever I could. It was a strange place to be… my skill set felt completely useless and I wanted to find some way to participate, even if it meant waiting until after the election.
Thankfully, I ended up here thanks to a story on This American Life about the divide in research and a follow up piece about listening with empathy:
This American Life ran a story in October 2016 about the state of facts and arguments in this election cycle. These sorts of stories used to keep me up for hours, knotted with anxiety about how we recover from this election cycle.
THE FACT THAT THENEWYORKTIMES AND THEWASHINGTONPOST AND USATODAY AND ALL THESE OTHER PAPERS AND NETWORKS NOW HAVE FACT-CHECKERS IS FOR ONE REASON. IT ALLOWS THEM TO FOOL YOU. THE IDEA THAT IT IS A FACT-CHECK STORY IS DESIGNED TO SAY TO YOU THAT IT IS OBJECTIVE AND ANALYTICALLY FAIR. AND ALL IT IS IS A VEHICLE FOR THEM TO DO OPINION JOURNALISM UNDER THE GUISE OF FAIRNESS, WHICH, IF YOU FALL FOR IT, GIVES IT EVEN MORE POWER.
For someone who goes through each statement and weighs its accuracy every day… this is terrifying. It is abusive to his audience and it’s damaging to the country as a whole. But it helped me sit there and stare at the language being used to bash what I do every day. I was able to face the problem. In truth, if this is a sentiment… we might not have all the facts we need to make real arguments that people hear.
NEXT This American Life followed this terrifying episode with one that offered some important advice on how we may find a route towards healing. At least, for those willing to rebuild together.
This story dives into the heart of the divisions and spread of misinformation. The section where the community in Minnesota is struggling to make sense of rising anxiety about immigration and refugees and terrorists is telling: one woman calls out her local politician for talking at her, not listening to her concerns and acknowledging them. People are afraid and feel excluded from this political system. This is a fact some choose not to see.
As I listener, I had that moment where I realized, of course! I would never tell a friend that their feelings were irrelevant or wrong. What made it ok to tell an entire population that their feelings were irrelevant or wrong? The only way to reach a solution is to build a common understanding.
Meanwhile, the future doesn’t seem so great and its scary for huge sections of the United States. People are afraid, and no number of times that someone far away in Washington DC or New York or San Francisco saying “it will work out, don’t worry” or “you have nothing to worry about, this (mechanization shift) is better for everyone, will meet them where they are. It’s belittling.
J.D. Vance presents really important points here about his experience growing up in Ohio and the culture shock of coming to Yale Law School.
Maybe my role as a researcher and activist can take a different bent, I can fact check but I can also listen better.
When we meet these communities with silence or do not speak to and acknowledge their fears, they will find “information” that does meet them where they are. Information is still a commodity, which means, the informal market will offer solutions if the formal market does not fill existing needs. It is strategically better for everyone if we have direct conversations about things like immigration and disappearing jobs, engaging with both real information and individual concerns and emotions, than it is to ignore it or say these concerns are irrelevant.
I argue that NOT engaging with the emotional tone of communities, their fears and concerns, and their hopes, create a power vacuum for leadership that we see frequently filled in the informal economy or in informal community organizations. I thought back to a lesson from TEDxMidAtlantic in October, where Bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn argued that Bans operate similarly to existing without rules at all. He uses examples from current bans in the US around Stem Cell research and specific procedures that prevent mitochondrial disease from being passed from mother to baby using another mother’s mitochondria. Without rules on acceptable use and discussion, people just seek out methods in the informal economy or the black market to fill their needs, whether that means traveling to a different country or meeting someone off record and, at times, without sufficient medical support or advice.
We ask to see leaders who are human and who can speak to our fears, not mercenaries that will act silently in their own interest, overload us with numbers and data we don’t have the capacity to respond to, and then tell us we deserve to suffer. I think we can all relate to a moment or several when facts are not helpful on their own in mitigating some of our fears.
The way I can contribute now and after the election tomorrow, as a fact checker and a researcher, is to listen and bring light to the stories that wont be told if we allow traditional power structures to dictate how we record history. If nothing else, 2016 is a year where business as usual was not enough. We need to listen and record the fears at their roots, talk about where we are as communities, and find a way to heal together. I’ll be running around with a notebook in the back to make sure these stories aren’t lost… and then when we have ALL THE FACTS, we thrive in a fact based system.
I’ve been running a salon for women interested in reflecting together for the last four years. We hoped this experiment could lead to a cool network of women interested in answering difficult questions, continuing with their research after college, and supporting each other through life transitions. It has been all of that for me for years, I am very grateful for this community we’ve built together.
To make this easier for new salon leaders, I am posting our fall/winter schedule and topics, maybe to inspire some of their own discussions. I will update it with our readings in case you want to follow along on your own.
SEPTEMBER: Sunday Sept 25: Family and Community
Questions we’ve been playing with:
– if we’re moving past the mom+dad+2 kids+dog in a white picket fence home, how has the definition of “family” shifted for you? Who do you consider to be your “family?”
– can your community become part of your “family?”
Kaela’s Intro Email: I had originally been inspired to add this as a salon topic because of IDEO’s event series about death back in May. I realized that I had never really had any long conversation about death with anyone in my life.
There are many ways we could go on this, but we thought we could spring board off of with the idea of ‘what does it mean to be alive versus dead?’ and ‘how do the dead in our lives “live” on once they’ve passed?’
“Human beings,” Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert observed…, “are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”
Let’s talk about Transformation. There are two questions that we’ve been playing with her that we’d love to hear your reactions to:
1) How do we know when we’ve “transformed” from someone we were or thought we were into a different version of ourselves?
2) And is this transformation really just a chance in perspective? Or is it like shedding a layer of armor and taking up something different?
Maybe change is like the Tower in Tarot (it’s meant to show the destruction at the end before a significant change. You can see it as “doom” and “disaster” like this image depicts, or it can be an opportunity for something new and exciting)
Maybe the modern “faith” based organization can go beyond traditional religious frameworks, I asked myself last Friday morning while I was walking to work after Creative Mornings. I want to unpack what it means to have “faith.”
Creative Mornings is now an international organization built on small localized groups who agree to host free events on Friday mornings before work in their communities. There is normally a theme, one keynote speaker, and sometimes a musician opener and a handful of 30 second pitches from the community. The audience signs up a few days before the event and joins together for breakfast and conversation before the hour-long live event.
The audience here in New York is very creative: the usual attendees are researchers, artists, strategists, developers, and students. It is also one of the warmest audiences I’ve ever seen in New York, because it’s an audience that is excited and ready to get up early and explore challenging themes like Risk, Love, Freedom, Ethics, Sex, and Revolution.
What does it mean to have “faith?”
I am very much struggling with this question. If “Faith” is tied to specific organized religions, and I find myself outside of those communities right now, can I explore “faith” more broadly?
For now, I am working with this definition: maybe “faith” can be about hope, and designing for the people and world I hope we can become, that I know we have inside of us when we feel safe and loved. Maybe finding “faith” can be about spending time in communities that share my values and want to work towards a more inclusive, generous, and peaceful world. Let’s start with this as an option.
Creative Mornings introduced me to some new tools and questions about “faith.”
She also taught us about what it means to think strategically and do the hard things when we need to act. This event set me on a new track to manage my media intake (specifically, on the election and the terror that Trump’s campaign embodies) and it taught me to think more strategically about how I want to participate.
Last week, we explored Love with someone who is very much still healing from her experience losing a child/loved one. Maggie Doyne is known for her work building the next generation of a home for children without families. She shared her very personal journey with grief and finding a way back to her work, and she reminded us, “love is the hardest thing, but it is the only thing that heals us.” To love is a choice, to keep your heart open is a choice.
That afternoon, I posted “On this day, and every day, Love will win. The darkness cannot take my mind (so I’ll keep learning). It cannot take my joy (so I’ll keep playing). It cannot take my heart, so I’ll keep loving). Love will win. Today and every day.” I received so many letters of love from my friends and mentors. I could create and be part of the community that I thought I was looking for, but really had created around me. I needed this reminder, though I hope one day I will stop questioning it.
I’ll keep coming to Creative Mornings, because it offers a new question to grow into each month.
This experience, like so many others, depends on what you put into it and how open to the experience you’re willing to be. I appreciate that it helps me explore “faith” and my values each month, and it provides beautiful moments to remind us we’re less alone than we think we are.
Many darks things in the news these last few weeks (perhaps months, at this point). While it was hard to block it out and re-center for a while, I found my peace in my communities. We cannot let the darkness win, so instead, let us celebrate the good we create together and the beautiful, little things. These are a few things from my community within TED that brought some light and healing into the week.
This week, I briefly caught up with a friend (and previous co-worker) who went to Baton Rouge a week ago to join the protests when we ran into each other in the Strand, unplanned. I was standing over a shelf of books, looking for Andrew Soloman’s newly published collection of essays, but also taking my quiet moment of solace in my favorite of sacred spaces (bookstores). She was taking a break from her office, trying to digest everything that she had seen and experienced, while trying to integrate back into New York. We bought sought that moment of peace over a table of books. I looked up to see her beaming, even through her complicated thoughts and reflections. While it took me a moment to process who I was seeing in front of me, her warmth made my face involuntarily break into an easy smile. That was a moment I needed and celebrate, even while so much else was brewing in the background. Andrew’s TED2014 talk offers some moments of his own healing:
This talk from Adam Savage at TED2016 is a series of beautiful little moments in a very creative community. It was amazing to watch coworkers post this talk this week alongside pictures of their children creating their own costumes, memories from their own adventures in make-believe worlds, and artists sharing stories from their own creative communities.
I went to see Finding Dory this week in a movie theatre with my partner. I forgot how magical Pixar’s movies are. There are characters we’re joking about a week later and scenes I described to my mother, hoping she would go see it too so we could talk about them. It reminds me of the talk from TEDTalks Live this past fall where lighting designer Danielle Feinberg talked about the effect of color and light in animated stories.
I appreciate them even more than I used to, because we work so closely to the amazing animators behind TED-Ed’s Lessons.
This team puts so much love into their work. It’s visible in their work and their willingness to teach others about their craft. They regularly volunteer to do workshops in the rest of our community (and get extremely positive feedback, because they are amazing teachers!) and one animator even teaches art classes regularly in a school in her community!
A friend asked me to send her a talk that gave me hope, and I was grateful to return to this talk by May El-Khalil. Peace is a marathon… we have to build our endurance because in the long run, love will win.
I was also deeply inspired by our community this week. The TED residents gave talks about the projects they are working on, and my friend Sheryl, who is a TEDx organizer and immigration attorney, talked about the value of immigration and immigrant stories in the US. It was the perfect antidote to the waves of far right backlash in politics right now.
I am grateful to be part of this community today and every day. The optimism is infectious and the common belief holding us together is a share love for ideas, experiments, creative growth, and hope for a better future. We see the good, here and now, but we also see what we could become and we celebrate it.
I want to end with an essay written by TED’s CEO, Chris Anderson on the value of ideas. It was the hope in the dark we needed, just after the Brexit vote… Ideas matter, more than ever.