“The unexamined life is not worth living” — Socrates
This summer, I spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the work I’ve done over the years. What am I proud of? What worked and what didn’t? But, most importantly, what impact have I had — both positive and negative? This post is mostly about my work in global health, but the exercise of examining can , and ought to , be applied everywhere.
I have always been drawn to act, to make ideas a reality. When I see an injustice, I can’t explain why, but every fiber of my being is agitated until I can’t take it anymore and I have to try to make it right.
I am a doer. It’s my nature.
The more I examine my place in this work, the more important it becomes that my doing is grounded in deep introspection and awareness if I am truly going to have the impact I want to have without negative unintended consequences. Sometimes I have been guilty of rushing in and doing when I should have taken more time to listen and to learn first.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
— Maya Angelou
I tell you this because I believe that it’s important to look back and consider our mistakes so that we don’t make the same ones again. I also tell you this because, in the age of filtering and presenting our very best selves, I don’t think enough people talk about the hick-ups.
I totally understand why. This is hard, and this work is hard. Really hard. Big, thorny, sensitive, and hard. It’s difficult to truly step back, to examine yourself and the work that you do, and to fess up. But if you do so honestly, you can see where you went wrong and you can rectify the situation.
Now and moving forward, I aim to maintain a sharpened self awareness. I put my camera away when it’s not appropriate. I listen more instead of being quick to speak. I study context, history, and culture before I attempt to offer suggestions. I look for people who are already doing the work themselves instead of reinventing the wheel. I am careful about the narratives I tell others, and myself. Most of all, I consider the consequences and impact of my presence or engagement.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to right the wrongs, to reallocate the resources, and to fight injustices. But while we are busy dreaming up solutions, we need to focus on the consequences of our choices, behavior, influence, and ignorance.
So, yes! Let’s aim for big impact and big change. Let’s enter into partnerships and dialogues. Let’s make this world a more wonderful place to live. But, while we’re at it, let’s also critically examine our lives, our actions, our impact, and where we fit into this picture.
The work is too important to skip this step.