I am genuinely moved to be one of the winners of this year's APA Public Philosophy Op Ed Contest. As I just tweeted, I'm honoured to appear alongside such brilliant, thoughtful, and fierce philosopher-writers.
It means a lot to me for a number of reasons. I'll just mention a couple here. First, my philosophical interest in love is relatively new, as is my (not unrelated) ambition to do philosophy in a more public-facing manner. I have found a deep happiness and satisfaction in expanding my range, with respect to both topics and approaches. This is perhaps unsurprising, given how closely growth has long been linked to well-being. Psychologists Ryff and Keyes even link it explicitly to eudaimonia:
Optimal psychological functioning requires ... that one continue to develop one's potential, to grow and expand as a person. ... Openness to experience, for example, is a key characteristic of the fully functioning person. Such an individual is continually developing and becoming, rather than achieving a fixed state wherein all problems are solved. ... It may also be the dimension of well-being that comes closest to Aristotle's notion of eudaimonia ... (p. 1071)
The thing is, moving into new areas and practicing new skill sets also creates uncertainty and risk. What if I suck at this?
One thing I've come to appreciate more and more over time is that such concerns are heightened by the perception of skill or talent as innate or fixed. That mindset has been exemplified in my case by the idea that there is some predetermined fact of the matter about whether I'm going to suck at public-facing philosophical writing, or at writing about love. In fact, as with philosophical skills in general, I have found the truth to be quite different: these things aren't fixed. I've experienced a steep learning curve, but that's precisely the point: I've been learning. One reason this contest means a lot to me personally right now is a simple one: it's a marker of accomplishment in a new arena, one that I entered without any clear sense of how things were going to go.
A second reason why I'm so happy to receive this particular honour has to do with perceptions of public-facing work within the discipline of philosophy. I've come across the attitude (less common now than it once was, but still around) that such work is "dumbing-down," not "real" philosophy, and certainly of no value for CV, tenure, or promotion purposes.
Professional recognition, by such a prominent institution as the APA, of the skill sets involved in writing and publishing a philosophical op ed can change -- I believe is changing -- both institutional practices (e.g. what gets rewarded at tenure-time) and general attitudes. Academic philosophers move in a world where tangible indicators of prestige and esteem play a huge role in determining what gets taken seriously, and consequently play at a causal (and arguably a constitutive) role in shaping what it is to be a philosopher in 2016. It's important, and not in question, that institutions like the APA also continue to recognize and reward traditional scholarship in various forms. But I sincerely appreciate the way a contest like this can point us towards a broader sense of what philosophers can be, and a more representative recognition of what philosophers can do. I'm happy to be a part of that expansion of vision.
For those who are interested, my winning piece is What's Love Got To Do With Sex Ed? Maybe Everything, published by the Globe and Mail.