Not Just a Statistic

I’m an avid fan of data. The bigger the better. I’m rarely convinced in the absence of statistics and scientific evidence. That’s why I was skeptical when I first started this project. Ethnography and in-depth interviews may well be some of the oldest, most widely practiced research techniques around the world, and I have known just how powerful personal stories can be, where statistics rarely elicit the same reaction. But for me, I have always found statistics to be the strongest evidence and, therefore, just as, if not more, powerful.

I mentioned in my last post that phenomenological interviewing is a new research technique for me. I was very curious to find out, well, just what I find out about people’s experiences with the ACA. Waiting for my first interview to start, I was incredibly nervous. A few minutes later, I was blown away. And I continued to be blown away for the next three days.

I could not believe the stories I was hearing: people who want insurance but just can’t afford it, people who can afford it but do not want to be forced to take on additional financial burden, people who are overwhelmed by misinformation. I feel the intensity of their disappointment, their stress, their anger, and their helplessness.

I’ve heard many of these types of stories from both sides of the aisle, but it’s not nearly as black and white and the media make it seem. I never expected to meet individuals who have so much in common and yet have distinctly different views. Every situation is unique. After 30 short minutes, it’s no longer a question of whether you are for or against Obamacare. It’s all the personal context and struggle surrounding the issue that matters, that drives. You can try to change people’s minds, but if their situation doesn’t change, then what can they do?

In three short days, I learned about people’s hopes and dreams, what scares them, what drives them, what makes them who they are. With just a few data points, I have gained a deeper understanding of the health care situation in the US. I can’t put into words how inspired and humbled I am by everyone I met. I will continue to value the objectivity and representativeness of big data, but perhaps I need to pay more attention to something valuable that I’ve overlooking all along.

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