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Drawing Our Future

We recently wrapped our Mapping Ourselves online beta. We had invited people from various professions and perspectives to participate in a five-week series of workshops to test our first ever design of an online educational experience of our in-person Mapping Ourselves workshops. 

Prior to the pandemic, Atlas had been working on a state-wide initiative in Michigan called We All Care where we engaged multiple organizations and stakeholders in discussions about care. The goal was to celebrate and explore how we each perceived the care in our lives – for ourselves, our family and community, our co-workers, and our environment. 

This all came to a screeching halt in March. But as we settled into our homes and watched, often in horror, at how the virus was ripping through cities, hospitals, and lives, we began to see with so much more clarity how barren the social and healthcare systems and institutions we have built to protect us truly are, especially for our most vulnerable. 

By the time I write this, the US has surpassed 100,000 lives lost in four months because of COVID. 

We have seen an array of reactions to this collective experience – from anger, to paralysis, to activism – all wrapped in a bundle of grief and fear. 

We have also seen an incredible surge of innovation in how we care for each other and ourselves. 

The people who came to our beta Mapping Ourselves online were folks who had in some way already experienced or heard of the Atlas CareMap. The CareMap is a tool we designed to help people see their care ecosystem and all the ways they give and receive care in their daily lives. 

A favorite quote of mine from Susannah Fox has been, “The CareMap is love, visualized.”

The CareMap lets you see your network in a different way, and with that different perspective, people have found they are able to tell and feel their lives in ways they hadn’t thought of before. And these moments of new reflection continue in important ways. 

COVID turned all of our lives upside down. It restructured our relationships, our sense of time and space, and re-prioritized our values. 

The beta workshop was an opportunity to invite people to speak about the CareMap, our other Mapping Ourselves tools, and the personal science practice with this as a backdrop. 

“Drawing and reflecting on a CareMap, ‘vaccinates’ you to future events, makes you more prepared, makes you more resilient,” said one participant during one of the sessions. 

In the following, I have tried to capture the flow of conversation and connection that emerged during our beta Mapping Ourselves online workshop.

Reflections on the Atlas CareMap:

  • Geographic distances represented on the CareMap during this time feel different than before COVID-19. 
  • Zoom and other digital interfaces have created a strong sense of intentionality in how we communicate.  
  • Some paid close attention to the emotional impact they experienced while drawing the CareMap, almost as a practice of mindfulness. A personal detailing of this experience could easily be overlaid onto the CareMap to illustrate how you felt as you considered different relationships.
  • The CareMap is a powerful tool for people to be able to intentionally build the support they need around them to thrive. There are so many different applications of the CareMap as a tool, including planning for the future, reflecting on your past, and acknowledging your present. 

Reflections on Personal Science, a practice of inquiry that employs data visualization and the scientific method, contextualized within the common framework of care. 

  • Dawn Nafus, an anthropologist at Intel provided insight into the techniques and considerations important for data observation and collection. 
  • The concept of subjectivity in reading data gathered from your life brought up questions about where it shows up – in the act of collecting data, data visualization, or in the analysis. 
  • The Mapping Ourselves tools are meant to embody the practice of Personal Science. Other than the CareMap, the rest of the Mapping Ourselves tools are new and so we still have a lot to learn about their value.

Reflections on Collecting, Analyzing, and Interpreting Data 

  • One person asked about the possibility of implicating others in our own data sets. The CareMap, for example, is about our relationships and therefore the story we tell directly or indirectly implicates others. In some instances we’ve seen this to be a point of contention between people; other times it becomes a platform for intentional and positive action.
  • A participant spoke about using the Social Network tool, one of our newer Mapping Ourselves models, to better understand a new team she was working with. She used the Social Network tool to visualize what she perceived as strengths in the team members, and how she felt they saw her.  
  • How to make sense of the data was also a focus point. Some people asked about whether it was better to begin with a problem you are looking to solve – a specific question – and then track and analyze the data in service of that question. Others suggested that having no specific question to filter your collection of data through, might provide a richer set of information that could stimulate richer questions. 

Reflections on Busyness and Time

  • We talked a lot about the perception of busy-ness and our values. How we choose to spend our time impacts our ability to create, to imagine, to show up for people we love – especially ourselves. 
  • A sociology professor at Emory University who focuses on the political economy of structural racism wrote a twitter thread recently that resonated with the topics we were discussing related to time, busyness, and value. She said: 
    • She also wrote: “It is asociological to live by social constructs placed ON you. As Mother Audre Lorde said, ‘If you don’t define yourself, then you will be crushed into other people’s fantasies of you and eaten alive.” You are warned: Don’t be someone’s snack. Protect your thoughts.“
    • ”Burnout occurs because we do not invest in our creative process. You must apply careful attention to your energy field, the ropes that drain it and the ropes that fuel it. Use them to play double dutch with your creations. Don’t let those tasks jumping in and out  break your equilibrium.” 
    • Here is the link to the entire Twitter thread, well worth the read 
  • Jan English-Lueck, professor of anthropology and Associate Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San Jose State University, and a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future, spoke about her work.
  • She also described how her medical anthropology students experimented with the CareMap and the impact was profound. She described how her students recognized that the CareMap is less a revelation about self than a revelation about connection. As one of her students stated, “Care is not a solo activity.”

Final Reflections on the Mapping Ourselves workshop

Personal science helps to bridge the micro-personal to the community so that both can be thought about as a system, interdependent and interconnected. Through the lens of care, we can start to see how hard we’re swimming, and how much we’re asking of ourselves so that we can start to build structures and institutions that better support our needs and desires.

  • Steve Downs and Susannah Fox were our final guests. They spoke a lot about the idea of intention – intentional building, intentional design, and intentional imagining. 
  • Steve, co-founder of BuildingH, spoke about how we require structural change to expand people’s access to and experience of health. Steve used the metaphor of a stream, where we’re all swimming upstream to achieve health and wellness. Though we’ve been given a lot of tools to become better swimmers, the stream is still built to flow against us, and makes swimming incredibly hard.  What would happen, he asks, if we changed the direction of the stream? How would that change things?
  • Susannah focuses her work on peer-to-peer health, really looking at it as an intervention for various health conditions. She described 3 stages of peer-to-peer engagement where the first stage is to see others around who are similar to you. The second stage is when the collective starts to solve problems together. And the third stage is when mainstream institutions or those who have access to power either are forced to listen or reach out to listen. 

Having open conversations with people you can relate to— building meaningful connections and empathizing with each other— that’s when we can collectively bring positive and just change to our world.

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