January is a good month to detox, to expel bad habits, unhealthy substances and toxic influences from one’s experience.  I’ve joined others who are observing ‘Drynuary’ (a booze-free January), though admit to indulging in a whiskey now and then, as I will tonight to celebrate Biden’s inauguration.  Seeing the backside of Trump and his presidency will be a purge the whole world needs right now.  And speaking of purging, how many of you dug out your copy of Mari Kondo’s bible on tidying up during these early weeks of 2021?  We spend so much time in our homes these days; de-cluttering can lift some of that COVID weight off our shoulders (not to mention make for better backgrounds on Zoom calls).

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could flush COVID away!  But while it lingers, it lays bare other toxins in bad need of expelling.  I’m talking about the spotlight it shines on continued inequality for women and people of color.  About what is being taught in schools versus what should be taught.  About the vital importance of teachers and caretakers and how society takes them for granted until a crisis shows up (and often even then!).

I admit that, as eager as I am about the promise of vaccines and the increasing visibility of the light at the end of this tunnel, I’m worried that we’ll revert to behaviors and expectations that are holding society back from thriving.

While I’ve been pondering these things, I’ve been paying more attention to my Spotify playlists, since my main form of entertainment these days has been walking around quarantined Leiden while listening to music or podcasts.  I’ve come to realize that those playlists could prepopulate themselves with algorithmic picks (“If you like this, you might also like…”).  On that note, a recent podcast (an episode of “Hidden Brain,” my new go-to) raised the issue of disrupting algorithms via ‘random shocks.’  It’s easy to get lulled into a life that is mostly dictated by algorithm: because you did this/ went there/ know that person/ studied this you are most likely to do that/ go there/ appreciate this kind of person/ do this type of work.  That can be fine until … it isn’t fine.  Until you find yourself in relation with others who operate under different algorithmic dictates, or in situations for which your algorithm hasn’t prepared you. Even worse, it can prevent you from learning about, appreciating, experiencing ideas/things/people that could vitally enrich your life.

The answer:  “random shocks.”  Override what your algorithm tells you about what comes next. Deliberately, but randomly, choose a different genre of music, a podcast topic on something completely new to you, an alternative route for your daily walk.  This will shock your algorithm and start adding new options to your real and metaphorical playlists.  Life will no longer feel pre-ordained.  

So many applications for this!  It’s recruiting season for international schools.  If you’re a recruiter, consider overriding your typical approach to what makes a ‘cultural fit’ and imagine what might actually shake up your school’s culture (healthy cultures are adaptable cultures).  If you’re a leader, consider what you might introduce to your school/ organization/ entity that could move you from ‘business as usual’ to ‘new possibilities,’ based on what COVID has exposed about current flaws and missed opportunities.  If you’re a female or minority, consider what cultural norms (algorithms) you are sick and tired of abiding by, and what ‘random shock’ you might dare yourself to introduce to your behavior repertoire (that is legal and safe).

Here’s to shocking ourselves and our societies out of toxic, algorithmic states. I’ll drink to that! (at the end of Drynuary)