Visualizing our shared mood, take one

Results from the question about how we can best help


A couple weeks ago I asked people on this list to participate in a little experiment that I’m playing around with.

It started with this question:

“How can you and I best help (and not hurt) everyone who most needs it?”

Your answer may be quite personal and unique to your own situation and experiences. While I’m interested in hearing specific answers to this question, and also interested in the various conversations that might spark from this question, right now I’m even more interested in seeing if there is a way to better understand our collective mood around this question. That’s why I asked these 6 follow-up Yes/No questions and got about 50 responses either via comment or email:

  1. Intuition: Do you feel like you can trust your intuitions about how you can best help? (56% said yes)

  2. Skill: Do you have the skills and know-how needed to help others who need it most? (59% said yes)

  3. Resources: Do you have access to information, time, and resources needed to figure out how to best help? (62% said yes)

  4. Capacity: Do you feel able to help others right now? (85% said yes)

  5. Network: Are your close relationships and community able to support your efforts right now? (74% said yes)

  6. Feedback: Is there a way for you to receive trustworthy feedback about whether you are in fact helping those who most need it right now? (35% said yes)

These 6 follow-up Yes/No questions aren’t just random questions, they’re meant to try to triangulate a kind of shared mood that the question invokes in us that can be understood in two different ways.

The first is by thinking about our internal and external experiences:

  • Internal experience: The first 3 questions (intuition, skill, resources) are about our internal experience, and how we each feel about our ability to answer the question accurately.

  • External experience: The second 3 questions (capacity, network, feedback) are about our beliefs about our circumstances and external experiences that are a bit less in our control.

I think this dimension is interesting to consider because sometimes we feel like we know what we need to do, and know how to do it (both internal factors), but lack the opportunity or support to do it (external factors). Other times it’s the other way around and we have the opportunity to address something (external factors) but lack the confidence or skill to do it (internal factors). Other times both of these things are aligned, and still other times both of these things are lacking. In all of these cases, I think the mood of the question feels quite different and so I’m excited to see how that can be identified.

The second way these questions are organized is to ask about the realms of experience:

  • Being mode: The 1st and 4th questions (intuition, capacity) are about how we think about our emotional/existential experience.

  • Doing mode: The 2nd and 5th questions (skill, network) are about how we think about our ability to take action and get things done.

  • Having mode: The 3rd and 6th questions (resources, feedback) are about how we think about what we have access to in terms of information and raw supplies.

This is about three realms that exist within both the internal and external experiences, and this is most obvious when, say, we feel constrained by internal or external factors but need a bit more detail. For example, say that we feel we have a good intuitive grasp of a question (being mode), but lack both the skills (doing mode) and the time and resources to do it (having mode). That’s very different from having the time and resources to do something (having mode) but lacking the confidence and skills to address it. These three realms help identify which parts of ourselves we’re struggling with.

Now for the fun (and perhaps a bit weird) part.

Since these are Yes/No questions, and have this structure, my idea was to be able to visualize the answers in an interesting way using color. I assigned each of the 3 realms (being mode, doing mode, and having mode) to a primary color (red, green, and blue, respectively). Then, I used the percentage of Yes answers to determine the opacity of the colors. That gave me something like this (with external factors sitting above the internal factors):

You can see how external being mode (top left) is darker than internal being mode (bottom left), because 85% of people answered that they felt they had the capacity to help others while only 56% of people said they felt they could trust their intuition about how to best help them.

Similarly, external doing mode (top middle) is darker than internal doing mode (bottom middle) because 74% of people said they felt their close relationships and community would support their efforts to help while only 59% of people said they felt they had the required skills and know-how to help.

And lastly, external having mode (top right) is a lot lighter than internal having mode (bottom right) because only 35% of people felt like they had a way to receive trustworthy feedback about how their efforts to help were going while 62% of people felt they had access to information, time, and resources needed to help.

It’s interesting, right? A collective mood is emerging here, sorta.

Then I took it one step further and merged the colors on the top and on the bottom, to create a holistic color-based interpretation of the internal and external experiences:

Seeing the colors separated, it’s not obvious that the top half is much heavier in red and green (which when combined make a muddy yellow) while the bottom half is a lot more even, with perhaps a slight leaning towards blue-ish light gray.

While the embedded meaning of this visualization requires some interpretation and translation to make sense, it also seems to me like it is revealing something valuable (if a bit ineffable) about how we are collectively feeling.

Does a yellow-ish external experience have an essence that is shared across different questions that have the same or similar moods? What about a blue-ish light gray internal experience? I have no idea. But so far, after one tiny experiment, I’m pleased with how this question turned out.

Next, I’d like to try asking another question of this group to see if we get a different result. For now I just wanted to send this out and see what people thought of it. Interesting? Uninteresting? Fun? Boring? Let me know in comments or by replying to the email.

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Have a nice day!