Learning to Step Forward

As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been afraid of the poor outcomes of even my most banal decisions. I used to be that cripplingly shy kid in most social situations, ruining any idea that I’d be the confident, loud, and overbearing Nigerian auntie I guess I was supposed to be. Better a weird kid than a difficult one, I guess.

Though I’ve worked hard to be a 9-5 extrovert, it’s still difficult for me to step out and make my opinions known in most situations. I’ve still got my kid in me manifesting in the worst ways. To date, I’m still fighting the urge to sit quiet when I have an idea and encourage myself take up some space. The strive to remain agreeable is taxing — wouldn’t recommend.

It’s not to say there hasn’t been stuff brewing, albeit always showing up more quietly than I intended. In my former life I was a policy researcher, hiding whatever fiery thoughts, critiques, and realities I had about the inequality of the real world in a very agreeable working paper that only a few people would read. It was a comfortable space for a younger me – non-confrontational and polite, but I also could have been convinced it was an action. We would pat ourselves on the back for moving the needle (any needle), no matter how incrementally. If someone makes a bad policy decision out of the work we’ve done, it was their prerogative. We were as neutral and fact-based as we could have been. Given our current political situation and my former institution’s only marginal bend towards positive action, I would not consider myself entirely proud of this position.

At MIT, I’m learning instead to be stymied by my own laziness instead of fear, and step into a place where I can stand more firmly on my integrity than my ability to be diplomatic. Admittedly, it’s scary position for an urban planner, a field that’s been as celebrated for its bold wins as it has been marred by its bold mistakes. As history shows, balancing everyone’s idea of integrity is a difficult task. However, as a planner, my personal focus is on how technology is translated to, driven by, and affecting marginalized communities, and I do think the field could use some new voices. In this class I’m hoping to get some legs to stand on, to be able to evaluate what being a good navigator, steward, translator, and participant in this space looks like. But mostly, I’m aiming to kick the quiet in me, turning that instead into thoughtful action that is both democratic and illustrative of the good values that I hope can drive us into the future. If research taught me anything, it’s that at some point, it’s worthwhile to take an action, just best that the action is a good one.

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