word(s) of the day: epistemic hospitality

by erika

Hi Friends,

The world is frozen outside but inside I am feeling a bit of a thaw. I feel this thing in my days called, I think the word I’m looking for is, happiness. It’s a simple notion of the word–no bursting forth, just a quiet ease of being. It shows up in places where I would least expect it–like work–and for that, I am so very grateful.

Yesterday, our ballet pianist, Irena, whom I love and adore but also fear (her honesty is real), let me know (out of the blue, as class was about to start), that being happy at work isn’t everything, that it “isn’t life.” My resistance to this statement rose fast and hot. I don’t believe that work is more important than parenting or friendships or my health, but it is where I spend most of my time so shouldn’t it be good that I am happy there? Isn’t it, if not all of my life, still life? It’s where I find community and where I am able to make a small difference in this big mess of a world. Work is where I feel useful and connected–to myself, to my students, and to brilliant humans whom I would never have come to know if not for my job.

word(s) of the day: epistemic hospitality

After ballet, I got to sit around a table with folks from all over campus–brilliant, opinion-filled beings who radiate phrases like “epistemic hospitality ” as ways to describe the attributes of humans whose generosity of knowing seeks to include vs. exclude. My beautiful colleague, Nabil, gave us this phrase, off the cuff, off the tongue, off the heart, and it buoyed the group to imagine a welcome mat of the minds. So often when someone knows something, they weaponize that knowing so as to cut down other’s beliefs and opinions. I can even remember my early (insert: insecure)  years teaching when I used my knowing to show and prove, not to show and share. and question further. and wonder more. and expand. Knowing was an end point, not an entrance. Oh–all that I “knew” in my early 20s (Sorry parents, and aunts and uncles, and other people of authority who I was so eager to batter with my fake self-episteme).

Now I think of my most knowledgeable people and see how they use what they know to invite what they have not yet learned. Take, for instance, my beloved Katy. She has a degree in Vocal Performance from the Boston Conservatory, a law degree from Capital, and is working on her phd in environmental mediation. She knows A LOT, but when she is in the lab of learning (called Planet Earth), she is always the human who knows the driver’s name, asks more questions than she answers, and uses her smarts to disarm and warm rather than put off/show off (unless she’s dealing with a real asshole and then BOOM, lightening brain. Or against anyone in Scrabble. There’s no welcome mat in Scrabble). Hospitality is her middle name, and she is ever gracious in her welcome to rally around complex ideas, even when she may already have all the answers–even especially when she does.

I would like be this kind of epistemic hostess–to set my mind like I set my table. And I want this table to be round with so many leaves that it turns into the biggest oval you’ve ever seen. And I want there to be room for plates and bowls and elbows, and spilled wine, sopped up with laughter, and salad forks, for those who want them, and plenty of napkins for those of us who want to use our hands. epistemic hospitality.

Love to all,

not-so-silent e