NOTE: This post has been slightly modified and relocated to Medium under the title “Everyone has Something to Teach You” in the Advice to Graduates collection. Click the link below to read the original post.
“Unwanted treatment is American medicine’s dark continent. No one knows its extent, and few people want to talk about it. The U.S. medical system was built to treat anything that might be treatable, at any stage of life—even near the end, when there is no hope of a cure, and when the patient, if fully informed, might prefer quality time and relative normalcy to all-out intervention.”
There is so much to say about this article, and I will definitely return to this post and add more thoughts, but in my mind, unwanted treatment is perhaps the single most disgusting example of capitalism there is, where ridiculous costs and treatments are heaped upon dying individuals and their families even when trained professionals know that these treatments will have so little of an effect they are useless.
I would wish that we may all die surrounded by our loved ones, floating away in the warmth of their presence, rather than the cold, dry air of a hospital, though I am not so naive.
For the past few months, I have spent the majority of my waking hours on Chasing Ice, an award-winning documentary about photographer James Balog’s quest to capture visual evidence of glaciers before they disappear. I got involved in the project after my friend Drew Levin told me I had to meet his friend Danny Goldhaber, who was in town for the week to shoot a short film. We got breakfast together, which turned into a brainstorming session, led me to meet Chasing Ice director Jeff Orlowski, and ultimately, has had a profound impact on my life. (I should note that Drew and I met sitting outside of Nacho’s office my freshman year. A big thanks to him for this one.)
I’ve always been interested in the way that society’s progress has influenced the planet we live on, and I am well-versed in the discussions that surround climate change. But I did not get involved with Chasing Ice because I want to talk to people about the way we are changing nature. I got involved because I fundamentally believe that many people, especially Americans, live in a perpetual state of reckless overconsumption, unaware of what they are doing to themselves and their environment. In short, I want to help people live better, and to do that, I need to start by helping them understand how they are living right now.
For those of you that know me, you’re familiar with my belief that people should live more intentionally and mindfully, and that the biggest thing schools fail to teach people is how to reflect. Schools teach us to become passive consumers of information and society teaches us to show off our wealth through things. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact, if it continues that way, we won’t be here much longer.
It has been a privilege and a blessing to be a part of the Chasing Ice team, because the people that I work with daily – Jeff Orlowski, James Balog, Paula DuPre Pesmen, Lindsay Friedman, Larissa Rhodes, Ali Fujino, Jerry Aronson (and many others) – are people who I truly believe are putting in energy to help shape the course of society by educating others on what it is we are doing to the planet and how we can see it in the ice. Many people have tried to reduce this film to pseudo science or claim that we are fear-mongering, but that’s not true. What Chasing Ice does is present irrefutable visual evidence of these changes as they are happening all around us. It is a wake up call for society to realize that “we cannot live the way we have lived and we cannot consume the way we have consumed,” as Lewis Pugh says.
At the end of the movie, Balog mentions that in twenty years from now, when his daughters ask him what he was doing to stop these changes, he wants to be able to say that he was doing all he could with the skills that he had. I hope that I can be so lucky.
Although it was not intentional, I believe that the release of Chasing Ice in the weeks before Thanksgiving is worth reflecting on, as Thanksgiving is often seen as a holiday of consumption. I hope that as we sit down with our families and friends in the coming days, we reflect on what we have, what we have given each other, and what we have given to the world. Every one of us has different talents, and it is up to us to use those talents to build a better future – a more sustainable future – for us, our children, and our children’s children.
You can learn more about Chasing Ice and find a showing near you at chasingice.com
*Note: The opinions expressed above solely reflect the views of the author and are not written on behalf of Chasing Ice or any other members of the team.
I love Bainbridge Island. From a tourist perspective, it’s probably quite boring because the downtown area is small and always under construction, and most of the gems on the island are quite spread out and hidden. But, I always have fun when I visit the island, thanks to all the friends I have there.
On Friday, I met up with Drew, Alex, and Therese for drinks before Alex and Therese finally make the move down to California (Therese will be working for Nokia Research), who were spending time with our friend and mentor Skip Walter. He had unfortunately fallen ill after lunch and returned home (to Bainbridge). Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for him) we ended up having an incredible meal together and subsequently lamented Skip’s absence on Twitter, which looked something like this:
Needless to say, Drew and I spent a wonderful afternoon on Bainbridge yesterday, complete with wine, grilled treats, a bluebarb (blueberry + rhubarb) pie from Blackbird Bakery, and tons of conversation and laughter. A big thanks to Skip for opening his doors for us. It’s always a pleasure.
Part of the feast.
A sailboat parked out in front of Skip’s. Seattle is in the background… somewhere.
Ferry turns on the way home.
In all of my life, the two questions I get that will always bring a smile to my face are “what is a Behzod?” and “what the heck is rhetoric?” While the former was one I heard a lot during my youth in Texas, the latter seems to come up more and more often in the context of discussing my education. Currently, I am graduate student in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, a program that is housed in the College of Engineering. As such, I am often asked if I came from a computer science or design program, to which I respond neither, and then state how my undergraduate degree is in rhetoric and media studies. Then the question surfaces.
Although we could debate the definition of “rhetoric,” I often explain rhetoric as “the study of how language imposes order on human experience.” That seems complicated enough, so let’s unpack it a bit. In the definition, there are 4 key parts; language, imposition, order, and human experience. Language (in the case of my education) refers mostly to the selection of words used in a given context. In a more modern view, this could expand to visual language (symbols, imagery, etc) but for our purposes we’ll stick to words. Imposes in the definition above points to the notion that words forcefully constrain or influence our perspective in some way, and together with order, suggests an organizing, a hierarchy, and even perhaps a role or job which is given to words to act as a filter or frame. Human experience is rather straightforward, as it puts our lives as the focus of words, but in doing so highlights the subjectivity and range of interpretation that exists, given how no two individuals experience the same life.
The other way I define rhetoric is to turn to my favorite rhetorical scholar, Kenneth Burke, and cite my favorite passage from his book Language as Symbolic Action (emphasis in the original):
Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality.
What this says (both concisely and eloquently) is that words frame and structure how we live, that language is very much the actor with agency in the scenes of our lives, and that ultimately, our words and conversations are reflections of our perceptions, our philosophies, and our biases. Which brings me to the key point of this post: to think positively, speak positively.
This has a number of manifestations, but I’m going to focus on the biggest one that I encounter, the use of the word “obstacle.” There are dozens of occurrences each day that are often labeled as “interruptions,” “problems,” or “obstacles,” and while these experiences likely divert the flow of attention and work that was previously taking place, when we talk about them using language with negative connotations, we will view them negatively. Instead of doing that, we could call them “opportunities,” a term that invokes a different set of ideas and emotions. By looking at a situation as an opportunity, we can see the chance to strengthen our relationships with others, learn or grow in a new way, stretch our body (or our mind), or perhaps just help someone that needed it. In doing so, we are effectively selecting positive aspects of the diversion and deflecting the negative ones (in terms of Burke’s example).
One of the ways that I try to use this type of positive framing in my classroom is asking students what they think was done well in a given example, and what they think could have been done better? By creating a binary of “things done well” and “things that could have been done better” I’m acknowledging the work that went into the example (I teach a writing class for engineering students) without labeling it as “bad” or “poor.” I do this because I am a firm believer that everything and everyone has something to teach me, and if I start with that as my foundational premise, I will find value in everything I experience. In the classroom, I see this permeate into the students language as the quarter progresses, with the students often beginning critiques of examples with “x was a good start, but I would have liked to see more of y.”
I would encourage you to try this small change in the way you speak, as well as thinking about what other avenues you can try and employ positive language, and then see how it influences the way you experience the world and interact with others. In closing, I need to give thanks to my late mentor Nacho Cordova for always encouraging me to speak specifically and see positively, for without him I would not experience the world in the way that I do today.