This is the second in a four (or more) part series. This particular post was born out of the feeling of extreme disorientation I felt sitting at my desk Wednesday morning.
My Epistemological Existential Crisis
For background, I note I am a lifelong theatre artist, but also have a PhD in a social science field (public administration and policy). Yesterday, I wrote about connecting the dots of electoral data to identify opportunity for cultural leaders in the wake of the stunning defeat of experience and rationality Tuesday night. I love finding patterns in data, whether quantitative or qualitative. This semester, I am loving helping students to find patterns and connect the dots in my strategy class. So, like many across the country, I ask: HOW DID THE POLLING DATA GO SO HORRIBLY WRONG? I’m not going to answer that question – I’m not a pollster or methodologist. What I am is a human whose way of knowing has been upended.
Sitting at my desk Wednesday morning during open office hours, I felt that the ground hadn’t just shifted below the Pilates ball on which I sat, but rather that I wasn’t on solid ground at all; that the ground was riddled with holes, elastic, permeable. Yes, emotions are data points too. Why did I feel this way and what could I, individually, do about it? As our systems and institutions re-calibrate to this unexpected reality, what could I do as an individual to again feel like I could move forward on solid ground? If data analysis could be so wrong, where would I find solid ground from which to begin to understand the world?
When I dropped off my 16yo at school that morning after the election, instead of saying, “make good choices,” I said “do good work,” which her generation is now especially burdened to do. The phrase I used reminded me of Gardner, Damon, and Csikszentmihalyi’s “Good Work Project.” (“Good work” is work that is excellent, responsible, and meaningful.) I hadn’t looked at the site in a while and had forgotten that it includes a value sorting activity, similar to the one I had my students do in their leadership class. I took a deep breath, and asked myself, “What are my values in this new reality? Have my values changed?” I slowed down my reeling psyche and spent some time with the value sorting exercise. The values by which I make decisions, the values I try to live by, have not changed. They are the values that led me to support Hillary Clinton, bring me into the classroom each week, and drive my passion for supporting artists. But in that moment, (re)examining my values served another purpose, more important in that moment and more personal: reaffirming values, at least and at first, made me feel like there is indeed solid ground beneath my feet. Living our values begins with an understanding of self, which can only happen with sure footing.
The very act of sorting through The Good Work Project’s value cards was calming. If, like me, your anxiety level is higher than normal as a result of existential (and in my case epistemological) uncertainty, I recommend this exercise as a form of contemplative reflection and self-care. In this time of great uncertainty, take care of that self and then let’s move forward together from solid ground. And, never ever look at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog again.
Tomorrow: The Woman Thing