A Dichotomy

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The past year of my life has been an exercise in extended exploration into being honest with myself. Last year at this time I found myself just having moved back to the States from a long time abroad, without a job, without a consistent place I was living, having just gone through a separation from my partner, a bunch of debt, shaky mental health, no clear sense of direction, and a lot of free time to stew on all of it.

I actually committed myself to consistent therapy and visits to the psychiatrist for the first time in my life (largely overdue, but still managing to take advantage of the the privilege I had of the remaining six months on my parents health insurance).

One of the activities one of my therapists had me do was a personal values activity where I highlighted 20 words from a long list that resonated most with me. From there I was meant to choose four that felt the most important at that time of my life.


Here was my list at the time:

Making a difference

Feeling that I wanted to dig into this exercise a bit more, I took it upon myself to, instead of just choosing four words, group these words into four categories that I identified as being overarching value buckets that emerged.

Connect – Cultivate – Constant – Change

These were things I already knew that I valued, but seeing them in writing, and with some process behind them was clarifying and validating. I felt, and often still feel, like I need validation for these values because I see them as being in direct contradiction with each other.

I value freedom, exploration, curiosity, diversity, independence — all of which change, agency and fluidity. However I also value consistency, stability, community, belonging — all of which require roots and intentionality.

How can one cultivate stability and community while also living a fluid life full of exploration and independence? It’s not impossible, but what I have learned is that it is a challenge and requires deliberate moments of sacrifice. My own duality manifests and different personas in my own mind and body, asking me to make important decisions.


There is an element of judgement that comes with this contradiction though. Often I find myself feeling broken or like I must be tricking myself. That there is no way I can be both of these things at once…that I should have to choose. That if I claim to be one way, I must be lying about the other. And lying is unethical…right?

Throughout the course of our coursework at ac4d, particularly in research, I find myself in situations where this dichotomy emerges. Because of the fluidity it implies, I find myself able to adapt to many situations, and to test my own ethical boundaries inch by inch. It’s in the afterthought that the self-judgement comes in. Does this ability and willingness to toe the line make me an unethical person?

In the work I’ve been doing, and somewhat through our discussions of ethics in class, I have been learning to pass these thoughts and situations through a few core questions:

  1. Don’t judge yourself.

Judging yourself and beating yourself up about the way that you are is a great way to have unstable footing going into any problem space. There is a way to be self aware and even self critical without being judgmental of one’s self.

2. Check in with yourself and ask every question twice.

Knowing that my values and my constitution is made up of an inherent dichotomy and ability to move fluidly between spaces, it’s important to ask myself the same question in a few ways. For example: Does not being fully transparent about the focus of my research to my interviewee make their consent to be interviewed null, and therefore unethical? First say – Yes, this was an unethical thing to do and here are the reasons why. Then say – No, this was not and unethical thing to do and here are the reasons why.

3. Don’t fight the tension, embrace the fluidity.

Rather than seeing this fluidity as something that I need to hide or fight against, I should embrace it as a part of me and as an actual asset to my abilities as a designer. Being more open to toeing the borders of ethical questions, being more open to things going wrong as a way of learning is all an asset. By checking in with myself, I can be in control of my fluidity and own it as a part of my process.

Which ultimately is my takeaway. This process of addressing the dichotomy inside myself is the base of my personal framework that I will be building on throughout the course of this ethics class. I look forward to continuing my work jumping off from this platform.

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