Noble work: Anand Giridharadas on the EKS

There was a recent discussion on the IDinsight #philosophy Slack channel about a recent Ezra Klein Show (EKS on this blog from now on, since I talk about it all the time) podcast with Anand Giridharadas. My contribution built off someone else’s notes that Giridharadas is spot on about how companies (also IDinsight in some ways) sell working for them as an extension of the camaraderie and culture of a college campus, how he doesn’t offer concrete solutions and that’s very annoying, and some reflections on transitioning from private sector consulting to IDinsight’s social sector, non-profit consulting model. I related more to the moral arguments in the podcast, and this is what I shared:

I connected most with his argument about how the overall negative impact of many big for-profit companies on worldwide well-being vastly outweighs any individual good you can do with the money you earn. One of EA’s recommended pathways to change is making a ton of money and giving it to effective charities, but if you do that by working for an exploitative company, then you’re really contributing to the maintenance of inequality and of the status quo racist, sexist, oppressive system.

My dad was always talking about having a “noble” profession when I was growing up (he’s a teacher and my mom’s a geriatric physical therapist) and even though “noble” is a strange way to put it, I think it is really important to (as much as possible) only be party to organizations and companies that are doing good or at least not doing active harm.

That being said, there are more reasons for going into the private sector and aiming to make money than are really dealt with in the podcast. For example, a few people we’ve talked to in South Africa have mentioned that many highly skilled South Africans are responsible for the education costs for all siblings/cousins and that is a strong motivator to take a higher paying salary.

It becomes very related to the debate about how much development or social sector workers should get paid, relative to competitive private sector jobs. I think IDinsight does a pretty good job of being in the middle for US associates anyways – paying enough that you can even save some, which is more than a lot of non-profits provide, but not necessarily trying to compete with private sector jobs because our model relies a lot on hiring people who are in it to serve, not for the money. Something for us to continue thinking about is how this might exclude candidates who have other financial responsibilities and how we should respond to this issue in how we hire and set salaries.

It’s so frustrating when people identify a problem without offering solutions. The closest he comes to offering solutions is to have organizations stop lobbying for massive tax breaks or in other ways deprioritize the bottom line of profitability. Sounded to me like his vision involves a lot more socialist ideas: the full solutions to these issues would involve massive-scale reorganizing of the existing economic system… although maybe we are heading in that direction with more co-op style companies and triple bottom line for-profit social enterprises? (Don’t know a ton about this co-op stuff – mostly from another Ezra Klein show episode probably, but it sounds cool!) …Maybe his next book will try to map out solutions, though?

Meditation Pact

My best friend Riley and I agreed to meditate every day for the next 10 days.

I got up early this morning for the first day – it’s starting to be winter in Nairobi so I was snug in warm clothes when I did my 10 minutes on the balcony.

The part I love most about the Headspace meditation is when you let go of all thoughts and let your brain wander, then center back into your body and physical sensations. Always makes me feel light but grounded.

Exercising again

I recently went through a long period of time (about 5/6 weeks) where I wasn’t running and I wasn’t even going to volleyball.

When I miss a planned workout or opportunity to exercise, I get a lot of mixed feelings. I feel good that I’m letting my body rest or, as is often the case, investing time in my personal projects and intellectual growth instead. But I also feel guilty about not exercising, and then guilty for feeling guilty – like I’m doing a bad job being body-positive or self-loving enough.

And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty about feeling guilty because I shouldn’t expect myself to be 100% self-loving all the time. So it’s rare for me to actually feel guiltless about missing exercise – usually, I’m judging myself under the surface and just ignoring those feelings.

I also know that if I miss one opportunity, I’m more likely to skip the next as well. I think that’s in large part because of the guilt cycle I get into. I start to feel defiant, like I shouldn’t even have to “force” myself to exercise if I’m not feeling into it. Because I’ve always been an athlete on sports teams, I’ve rarely had to make the decision to work out myself – it was simply demanded of me by my responsibilities to the team. Now, on my own, I have to actively make the choice to exercise each time and that’s way harder than I expected it to be.

The defiance also comes from the feeling that I don’t want societal pressures to look a certain way, or pressures I’ve put on myself to be seen as an athlete, to control my actions. It’s good to be aware of those pressures, but if I react so strongly in the opposite direction, am I acting any more independently?

Ultimately, I believe it’s good to take breaks and not beat myself up too much about “skipping days.” But it’s also really important to me to exercise. Exercise has a lot of benefits past my physical strength. It makes me happier, more energized.

The first challenge is recognizing when I’m taking a healthy break vs. feeling defiant and making an unhealthy, guilt-driven choice. Although, there might not always be a strict division between those two mentalities.

The second challenge is choosing the best action: do I “force” myself to do some kind of exercise even if I’m not really feeling it, so that I can have more motivation to work out tomorrow? How can I ensure I do workout the day after I take a break?

It’s a lot easier to think through these issues when I have been exercising. When I haven’t, I feel pessimistic about my ability to fix the problems. When I start exercising again, it’s more obvious that I can fix them – hey, I already started working out again, right?

This week, I ran on Sunday and Monday, played volleyball Monday night, and went rock climbing on Tuesday. That feels good, although I’m a bit worried I’ve swung too far in the other direction. Today, I’m planning to just go on a chill, short run when I get home from work or do a yoga session, depending on the rain situation.

I’m proud of myself for ending the exercise drought. And now I’m trying to figure out a strategy for getting back at it earlier in the future.

Sunday morning, 9’37″/mile
Monday morning, 9’32″/mile

Quickie reflection on first PD session

Today was the first day I used my new weekly professional development time block.

I had hoped to spend 2 hours reading and summarizing an academic article, and then 1 hour researching geospatial data in Africa.

Instead, I spent all three hours summarizing and digesting some research on grounded theory methodology I did two weeks ago. I had hoped to accomplish that writing and then read and write about an academic paper on GT and economics.

One of my PD goals is to track my predictions of how I will spend my time and evaluate whether those predictions were accurate. In this case, not so much. I feel good about how I spent the time today. I learned a lot by reviewing and digesting the notes I had previously taken.

I learn a lot every time I try to describe something I’ve read. Not sure if I will write Grounded Theory, Part 2: Grounded Theory & Economics next week during my PD session, or if I will use it for something else. Another related topic I want to understand is what the difference between heterodox and traditional economics really is.

Maybe some of it will happen in my PD session, maybe I’ll do one or both in my own time throughout the week and use next week for looking into the GIS/African data thing. TBD, but I feel good about my time spent this morning.