21 Jan 2019
A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied. And it is not true that the recognition of the freedom of others limits my own freedom: to be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom. I am oppressed if I am thrown into prison, but not if I am kept from throwing my neighbor into prison.
The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone De Beauvoir
23 Sep 2018
– Update –
I was bored and decided to look back on this post. When I wrote it I was having a desperate discourse with myself, rather than the reader. I thought about why I felt that way, and in no way meant this to be a blanket statement. However I do understand that many of my peers do share this similar sentiment - not towards White people in particular, but people of different backgrounds / cultures. I wanted to take time an re-engage with myself about this. I’ve ruminated on this issue so many times after talking to different people. After a somewhat slow osmosis I started to think about the passivity of people and linking my thoughts together with Audre Lorde (which I mentioned above) and other prominent activists (James Baldwin, Malcom X, etc.) and their tendency to engage with people. I thought about the press and its gradual transitions from an honorable process (FDR) to its current polemic and violent nature.
I’m hesitant to say that it was an “Aha!” moment, rather than an “oh yeah, well I guess so” type of moment. My conclusion is that people refuse to engage with each other empathetically and with open ears. We are so concerend with replying to one another, what to say, that we lose tangent of other people’s thought streams. We don’t take the time to consume and interpret other peoples’ thoughts for what they are - rather we are quick to jump to conclusions. Similarly I am too, and I’m not going to say that this conclusion jumping isn’t warranted. But I wish we were more patient and honest with each other. I really wish we were able to expand our capability for acceptance. This isn’t a blame or anything - just an opinion.
It’s hard to describe, but I can feel my vocabulary and mind lock up when I’m in a group of White people. I can physically feel my body tense up, and my mind contort itself in different ways. It becomes harder for me to speak. It is difficult because where I live is heavily condensed of White folks. It is difficult because they are privileged too, and in that sense, do not have the same set of experiences that I have had concerning race. This is not a disqualifier, rather it is a fact that I’ve come to accept about people; we are all different and together we need to love each other for who we are.
However there are days I wonder if I grew up conditioned by Anglo-Saxon standards. Was it because my father was an English major, and had a deeply romanticized view of White history? Was it him who told me that White people deserve a higher level of interaction and are warranted more comfort than others? Was it him who tried to make me believe that White folks are inherently more intelligent than others? There are moments when I wonder if people of color are forever doomed to the stereotypes and prejudices that have annihilated our cultures. Unfortunately I wouldn’t like to know the answer to this question.
Despite my pessimism with regards to the experiences of people of color, the reality is that it is not just us who experience discomfort and frustration around White folks. I have spoken to my friend, who is a wonderful person and a White woman. She too experiences this struggle, she speaks of it when she works in an area where there is not many White people. She tells me she is uncomfortable around people of color, and that it frustrates her to no end.
The reality is that the discomfort and emotional / physical exhaustion exists everywhere. It is this un-nameable feeling that exists within all of us. There are many questions that I have. How do we accept the differences amongst one another? How do we shatter the invisible barriers that disconnect us from each other? How can we put a name to something that we can barely explain?
I made an attempt this year at speaking up and becoming more honest with who I was. At distilling my abstract emotions into something more concrete and fulfilling. To some degree I have succeeded and to some degree, I failed.
I want to make a stronger attempt at speaking up, for the causes I deeply care for. For the pain that people struggle to admit in our most vulnerable selves. I had held back on this issue for a long time because I thought my experiences were invalid. I envisioned myself as crazy and neurotic. I thought myself to be insane and delusional. But then I realized that this discomfort is pervasive amongst all people. Of course it is a discomfort more definitive in people of color, but it is also existent in white folks too.
The question as always is how do we solve this ongoing disconnect? How do we reunite with the people who we have chosen to separate from? It is trite to say that folks should simply just love, and that through love it’ll become better. The reality is for folks to speak about it. We must listen to each other’s stories actively, validate each other’s experiences thoughtfully, and respect each other’s presence wholeheartedly. It is with these three focal points coupled with the burden of speaking up that we will unearth the pains we have hidden.
Note: Thank you to the lovely Thu Nguyen for always taking the due diligence to read over my very primitive wriitng. You are a wonderful human being who knows how to give critical and wise feedback with empathy and compassion, and have also transformed many of my pieces.
14 Sep 2018
It’s been such a lovely summer being able to mentor you and watch you grow. I think I have reiterated this over and over again, that watching you become a fully engaged engineer has been one of my favorite things this past summer. I am more than enthused to have been your mentor, and while sad that you are going back to school, I am happy that you are able to take your learnings elsewhere. I believe that you are destined for great things, and that you will achieve whatever it is you put your mind towards.
I tell people this all the time, but the greatest thing that we have in our arsenal isn’t our innate intelligence. It is our perseverance and grit towards success. Watching you display those qualities has been amazing, and while I am confident you are already a smart, intellectual, and well-spoken person, I still believe that you have room to grow.
Your journey doesn’t end at this internship, or at your graduation, or wherever you decide to accept your full-time offer. Life isn’t so friendly and innocuous as we all make it out to seem, rather it’s harsh and unexpected. The many hardships that come with each career are surprising and sometimes ruthless.
That being said, there are many things that I had wished I learned when before I came to working. I will attempt to distill these abstract things for you and hope that you hold them in some place near your heart.
- There are going to be days when the job is ruthless and other people will unintentionally grind you down. To this effect you can either stick up a middle finger unapologetically at other folks, or you can empathize with their problems lovingly. My advice is to play a balance between the two. Never let anyone take advantage of you, because you are a human who writes code; not a coder who happens to be a human. But also, remember to display compassion and love towards your peers, because after all of the code is written and the time is gone, only the people will be standing.
- To remember that this “job” thing is a marathon. It is easier to see this one when you have been working for awhile, but remember that you are a person outside of your career. While your career certainly plays an important role in who you are, never let that become your identity. To this day I think of you as __, a phenomenal human being, rather than __, the engineer.
- To speak up and take ownership for yourself. In a capitalistic and individualistic society, we have been drilled to believe in ourselves before others. Hopefully this logic will disappear as we grow older and become less susceptible to capital goals, but for now we must stay accountable for ourselves. Remember to set up your barriers and never let the bastards grind you down (this is a quote from A Handmaid’s Tale). This is arguably the most important one, and so I refer you to this amazing essay by Audre Lorde who writes on speaking up.
From one of my favorite quotes this past year, I pass this to you (the context is that the author is going to school at Harvard / BYU, however I think this applies to you also):
“You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself—even gold appears dull in some lighting—but that is the illusion. And it always was.” - Educated, Tara Westover
Don’t ever let anybody put you down.
13 Sep 2018
In many ways 2018 has been an exciting year for me. I’ve joined Clover Health as a software engineer, become a crisis counselor at a suicide hotline, and was voted into the Board of Directors at the bookstore cooperative I work at. That being said, there’s never a better time to examine what’s happened to me than towards the end of the year. I don’t necessarily love to reflect on my growth, rather I like to see what I can take away from it and how I can become better.
So taking a step back and looking at all the problems of this year, how they’ve occurred, and what techniques I’ve learned to overcome them; I’ve recognized a common theme.
Repeating some of my past writings and sayings, it’s evident that lack of honesty and vulnerable communication is the root of many problems. In social, work, or even situations with myself I find being honest to be the most difficult thing. It requires me to be cognizant of my setting, my emotional leaps, and others. I’ve always tended to be an emotional and neurotic person (fun fact: my Myers-Briggs personality is INFJ) and that hasn’t changed a bit.
And so to reiterate, I find that honesty is the biggest thing I’ve walked away. It takes a lot of guts to be honest in a world filled with reasonable insecurities and pride. It takes a lot of sacrifices and putting all your cards out there, letting folks know that this is who you truly are. And finally it takes a lot of awareness / mindfulness of the present. It takes emotional burden to take a step back to care for yourself and respect others.
I’ve realized that a lot of my disagreements over situations stemmed from miscommunication. Spoken or written language is nuanced in the sense that it is multifaceted and multi-layered. Whether or not we intend it to be, the words we speak and the sounds we make carry multitudes across different ears. It’s wonderful in a way, but also has unintended consequences.
“I am large. I contain multitudes.” - Walt Whitman
In some ways it’s unfortunate we don’t have some universal method of communication. Consequently I think it is difficult to be honest in a world where people are so vast and contain different backgrounds. Many philosophers have argued that the world is created by the language that we choose (Wittgenstein and some others subscribe to this philosophy).
The silver lining is that there’s a remedy for this. It is also the case that this remedy is not a panacea to all problems. Angela Davis said to some degree that perfection will never be reached, and when one summit is acquired, many other problems tend to form. But we can’t stay still. We can’t maintain the world as it is. Because of all the suffering and pain that is happening, it doesn’t require much explanation to realize that we need to change.
And so people always ask… how do we start? Do we start by letting the floodgates open? Do we start by letting everything out? Or do we trickle problems out one by one? How do we heal?
By letting each other know how we truly feel. By having integrity towards ourselves. By being vulnerable and letting other people in. And yes, it does hurt. It hurts much more than anything else. But at least the end of it, we can say we tried our best.
“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” - Antonio Gramsci
11 Apr 2018
Audre Lorde taught me to be vocal, and to translate my feelings into language. That I am tasked with something greater than just feeling my emotion(s).
“For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it. For others, it is to share and spread also those words that are meaningful to us. But primarily for us all, it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth.”
It is by this this quote that I believe engineers need to hold themselves accountable for their decisions. I think about the time when I took Contemporary Ethics for Computer Science at UT. I remember thinking it as the most banal class ever. Everything was so boring and the professor shouted platitudes and cliches at the students. I recently peeked at some of my old essays and was surprised to find how highly analytical they were. How they examined the world from a critical perspective, questioning the morality behind computing decisions that software engineers tend to nowadays neglect. It sounds solipsistic, but what I’m trying to get at is that there was a point where I was more concerned with the ethics of my software choices.
Nowadays I’ve definitely compartmentalized a lot of these decisions or thoughts. Moments where people have been oppressed in the workplace, when I’ve been oppressed, or when morally gray decisions were made. To all those who I may have affected: I am sorry. Oftentimes engineers throw up their hands and cry foul when it comes to their programming choices. A lot of this has been the negative culture we’ve built around whistle-blowing. In fact, the term whistle-blowing itself has some negative vibe to it.
Similar to past psychological experiments, people do things when it involves a higher authority order. The fact is that change cannot happen from the bottom-up. It is simply too hard at this moment. Society has constructed a chain of command where people feel obligation towards superiors. The belief of superiors has made whistle-blowing movements difficult and somewhat precarious.
Therefore I propose a solution: To create an empathetic space where our superiors can communicate and debate effectively with their reports. If leaders aren’t willing to change their minds, or at least be open to criticism, then no change can happen. This involves all of us. It requires emotional effort and capacity. It won’t be easy.
2018 is a year where I planned to be true to myself. To speak up for things that I felt true to and at the same time, be receptive to criticism. I hope you feel the same way too.