When I was growing up, my father changed jobs often. Every move was a step up and, more significantly for me at the time, a new address in a new place. I got used to changing schools, neighbourhoods, and sometimes countries in a steady rhythm of departures and arrivals. By the time I was 17 years old, I had attended twelve different schools on three different continents. To adapt to every new place, one realizes that what is “cool” elsewhere won’t always fly in new environs. It’s a vibe. I had to learn the rules of unspoken and spoken languages from scratch every time. These early life experiences were invaluable, teaching me flexibility and how to trust my instincts.
2020 feels in many respects like a year of reckoning. Whether it’s our collective vulnerability to Covid-19 or the angry bubbling over of public outcry and action over deeply embedded racial injustice. This moment serves us all with an opportunity to think long and hard about how we communicate within and between communities.
Every time I had to fend for myself in a new community when I was younger, I learned how to adapt to its values. I keep asking myself, on a personal and societal level, how flexible and adaptable have we all been in response to the pandemic? And, over the summer, to the massive social unrest that rose in Canada and the United States, if not elsewhere? Are we actually listening to each other?
I ask these questions as we navigate in and out of red zones of viral community transmission or contend with questions of cultural and racial sensitivity and inclusion that strike at the heart of our sociopolitical identity as Canadians or Quebeckers. I’m thinking more and more about unspoken and spoken languages. The “bubble” takes on a lot of different meanings in this pandemic and in this political moment, depending on who and where you are.
In North America, individualism is prized. We reward self-reliance over collectivism. Personal freedom is often widely considered a more important value than service or solidarity. When it comes to addressing racial injustice and inequality, as well as external threats such as Covid-19 and climate change, I wonder if we aren’t at a disadvantage from more “collectivist” societies around the world. The notion of community, of a global village, might need saving. As many people around the globe face different levels of risk and isolation, I propose the connective tissue we turn to be data. No matter our language of origin, we need to get on the same page to address these pretty massive issues. By acknowledging the language of measurable information and facts, a discussion supplemented with metrics on Covid-19, the climate, and racial injustice will lead to actionable conclusions and—hopefully—the right decisions.
As we look to another year faced with pandemics, climate change, and extreme nationalism, never have we so desperately needed to reinforce our communal respect for science, policy for the public good, and selfless global cooperation. Humans speak in thousands of languages across the globe. We need to make sure we are truly listening.
Further reading on the importance of data-driven leadership
- You’re reading this article because you’re smart (or is it the other way around?) from The Correspondent by Sanne Blauw
- Chief science adviser wants position to become ‘part of the fabric of our country’ from The Hill by Aidan Chamandy
- Statistical illiteracy isn’t a niche problem. During a pandemic, it can be fatal. from The Guardian by Carlo Rovelli