Philosophy and Social Impact Assessment

Image via Univ. of Chicago Philosophy Department

After writing my previous post about why we measure, I had to take a step back to see the big picture. As part of my new job, I’ve been plunged into hours of work inside excel spreadsheets, information management systems, and databases galore. I had to separate myself from my computer screen briefly to consider how my actions were helping to accomplish the mission of my organization (to close the education gap and ensure educational equity in America). Swimming in my data, I felt far from being part of the solution. But today I feel awesome about what I’m doing. Why? Because of two seemingly disparate, but truly connected, things.

First, I have been reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou using the Kindle app on my iPhone, and I came to a passage that really resonated with me: “Love is responsibility of an I for a Thou. In this lies the likeness-impossible in any feeling whatsoever-of all who love, from the smallest to the greatest and from the blessedly protected man, whose life is rounded in that of a loved being, to him who is all his life nailed to the cross of the world, and who ventures to bring himself to the dreadful point-to love all men.” I mention that platform and device that brought me to this passage because I was able to see that 11 other readers of this tough philosophy text had also highlighted this very passage – I wasn’t the only one who was feeling it. The best part of this passage for me is the ultimate possibility it offers up: that it is indeed possible to love all people. Buber may have called this a “dreadful point” for several reasons. It would be dreadful to feel love for a person who does bad things and hurts others. It would also be dreadful to know that many of the people you love around the world are suffering constantly, every moment someone is suffering. But to be involved in any kind of work that aims to have positive social impact is truly an expression of love (if you don’t like the use of the word love here, substitute the word “empathy” for it instead).

The second thing that brought me out of my funk was reading about a new website, EmotionalBagCheck, which helps promote a challenging aspect of love (empathy): how to feel it for a total stranger who you have never seen and never will. When you go to the site you get two options: lay down your baggage, or help someone else carry theirs. I was feeling very connected to strangers when I discovered the site, so I chose to carry. I was delivered a message that someone out there had written about the tough time they were going through. Do to a browser error, I ended up cycling through a few of these, and was amazed at how I was able to relate to many of the feelings I read about. I was then prompted to choose a song to send to the person who wrote their “baggage,” something that would help me get through if I was in the same situation or felt the same way. I settled on sending a song to a person who wrote about uncertainty of their future career and love life and fear of stagnation. I chose “My First Song,” by Jay-Z, which I wrote helps me with motivation and keeping the fire under my feet. After sending the song and a note, I got a thank you screen that included the message “You’ve probably made someone’s day a little better.” I felt like this was love (empathy) at work.

Is it necessary to measure, track, and report on love (empathy)? I don’t think so, although I hope we are all always trying to increase this in our lives. But love is so passionate and so overwhelming that it behooves us to watch our steps, and to make sure that our actions match our intentions. That is where my excel spreadsheets and terabytes of data come into play. My take-away for the day is this: Love and empathize as much and as often as possible, and take action to show that love and empathy. When people come together in an organization or company to do this, Social Impact Assessment can help make sure that the passion is optimally directed towards the positive.

Thanks to everyone that read this post – this was an important one to me. I hope I hear your opinions on it as well! Stay connected 🙂



One response to “Philosophy and Social Impact Assessment

  • Sheila J. Hicks

    I love that you’ve chosen to write about something so personally resonant Emily. Those of us who chose to do work for which there is (supposed to be) a positive social impact need to remember to ground ourselves in the mission and the love for “thou.” I know not everyone in these professions is lucky enough to have emails from parents or those cute picture family holiday cards because not everyone gets to work in a school; but I think it’s important to find some emblem of the thou that you are loving through your work and to keep it somewhere where you can turn to it in the depths of your spreadsheet (or pick your applicable, personal poison) Hell.

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