By: Sophia Hennessy
Everything looks different depending on where you are positioned.
A bird sees leaves.
A squirrel sees branches.
A worm sees roots.
All these perspectives are true and legitimate.
The bird, the squirrel, and the worm are all looking at a tree.
In this piece, the tree is a metaphor for anything! The tree is a school, a car, a health insurance plan, or a public policy.
When we evaluate a policy, our goal is to be able to see the whole tree.
Here are some truths: squirrels can’t visit worm dens, they are too big and not natural tunnelers.
Worms can’t fly over the canopies (they are notoriously acrophobic creatures).
Birds struggle to fill their cheeks with acorns.
The solution to seeing the tree is not to sequentially stand where a worm, a bird, or a squirrel would. Nor is it trying to act like each critter in turn. We all already know which creatures we are and there is no point pretending otherwise.
The solution to seeing the tree is to visit with the worm, the bird, and the squirrel in turn. Each creature already knows what the tree looks like from their own unique perspective. If you want to understand what the tree looks like, ask those who know it best.
This method of determining the whole comes from feminist scholar Donna Haraway who proposes that objective truth can only be found in the collective. She acknowledges that each of us hold truths, however, she simultaneously cautions that no one person holds The Truth.
The Truth (the objective truth) can only come from combining the perspectives of every single person and/or living thing that interacts with the object in question. For our purposes, from the insights provided by our conversations with the bird, the squirrel, and the worm concerning the tree.
Unfortunately, this was not how I was taught to search for truth as a kid. In much of school, the teacher dictated Truth and my job was to remember it: the most pivotal events in U.S. history, how to run a lucrative business, that your success is measured in grades, and that eating with your hands is a sign of bad manners.
Truth has become weaponized. People in positions of power have claimed The Truth, and wield such Truths to maintain their power. Scientific Truths have been used to ‘objectively’ validate many systems of oppression including ableism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
Among the effects of such usurping are two that I would like to call attention to specifically:
- We forget to conceptualize Truth as inherently collective. We tend to not see our truths as part of a larger whole. Rather, we see our truths as threatened by the perspectives of others. We pit our truths against one another. In such a world, the worms and birds can cry themselves hoarse arguing whether trees are brown or green. And to what end?
- We often struggle with internalization of how important our perspective is based on where our identities fall within social hierarchies. As a result, we often are socialized to either see our perspectives as more or less valuable, more or less deserving of attention, and consequently more or less worth voicing out loud, than other people’s perspectives.
If the worms are the ruling class of the forest, they teach the trees are brown. The squirrels may be confused by this but will likely learn to believe the worm’s truth as True (or at least to say as much) because of the power the worms hold. Their acceptance of the worms as the teacher both reinforces the worm’s power in the forest and cements the bird’s perspective (that the tree is green) as of little worth.
I went to an event this week where folks were receiving recognition for outstanding work in the policy advocacy space. Among the awardees was one person who shared her personal story about experiences with medical debt. Upon receiving the award she said, “I never thought my single voice could make a difference.”
This is what society wants people removed from positions of power to believe, however, it is not true. Her story, vulnerability, and advocacy – her singular voice – helped change the lives of hundreds of people.
At CCHI, I see truth as existing in the collection of all perspectives. When we are deciding whether a policy is worth pursuing or when we are assessing whether an existing policy is working, I have learned to try and see the whole policy. To do that, I need to hear from Coloradans across the state and from all walks of life. I need to get a picture comprised of everyone’s perspective so that I can ensure a policy is aligned with our mission. I cannot evaluate whether everyone in Colorado has access to affordable quality health care from my solitary position nor can any other person solely from theirs.
As a policy fellow, I want to intentionally upend how truth has been weaponized to quiet voices. I want to challenge the narratives that say not everyone’s opinions are valuable. I, and my coworkers at CCHI, want to elevate those opinions and perspectives that have been the most marginalized and undervalued.
As we head into the 2024 Legislative Session there will be A LOT of calls to action, requests to testify, and opportunities to engage with our work. It is our job to ‘be experts’ in health policy. That means listening and uplifting your voices – the voices of Coloradans. All this is to say is that please excuse our deluge of emails, your voices and stories truly matter and we cannot do this work well without you.
The worms, squirrels, and birds at CCHI