I’m writing at 5 am on Election Day, and I’m wondering, what will today mean?
I’m writing at 5 am, because after daylight savings time, my 2 year old has been getting up seriously early each day, which means, so have I.
We spend a lot of the mornings now in that in between space, the space in between awake and sleep, day and night. I’m convinced he should be asleep, and he’s convinced he should be awake. This morning, like many of these mornings, we spent time lying on the couch looking out the window in the pre daylight view where we could barely make out the outline of the trees. He was, as he is in most of these pre-dawn moments, draped over my body with him arms spread out, his tiny body moving in whole with each of my breaths in and out.
I don’t have to tell you that this is election feels important. It is a fraught time, with violence, polarization, and consequences of our decisions as a nation that feel like “before and after” kind of moments. And, I have no idea what will happen in this election (dear reader, if you’re reading this after the results are in, you happen to know more than I do. Perhaps, you already know what today means).
Many times, we are only able to make sense of our actions, what happened and why, when we are looking backward, when something is already said and done. It is called “hindsight bias”. It is a cognitive bias, a mental shortcut our brains use, that tends to assign meaning, purpose, and intention to events in the past, whether we had a full understanding of them at the time or not. Some psychologists call it the “I knew it all along” effect.1
Because we know more now than we did then by definition, we tend to trust our own judgment, reasoning, or wisdom looking backward. Perhaps this is in personal or everyday scenarios. I took one street instead of the other on the way to work, and I got there quicker. Looking back, I must’ve made a good decision or been wise. But either way could’ve worked that day. Maybe you take a risk at work on a new project you or your boss are unsure of. If it works out, there’s evidence to you that people should trust your gut instinct more often. You win a hand of poker playing fast and loose, and you start to think that this means your strategy works, when it could’ve just been luck. It’s hindsight bias. We use it in explaining elections that didn’t turn out like we thought we would. You know those, right?
My guess is, that for the most important moments of your life, pivotal decisions or accidents or moments that changed everything, you didn’t know they were “before-and-after” moments until it was “after.” Most of the time, you didn’t wake up knowing what the day would mean. When the sun rose, and you were in that in between space between sleep and awake, perhaps you had no idea that it would be the day you met the love of your life, or you lost them. You don’t necessarily know when you wake up if this is finally the day you conceive a child, or you don’t.
We hardly ever know when we wake up that today is the last day at our job, or the day it turned toward our leaving. We don’t know that today is the day we get a call with a diagnosis that is going to rip the fabric of who we thought we were completely, or the day that a country changed or showed its true colors. Is today the one in which you come up with the idea that will be the best book you’ve ever written, the day you end up forgiving someone you’ve been holding a grudge about for too long? We don’t often know that today will hold the first kiss with someone, or the last, until that day is over.
When I started learning Spanish, one of my favorite phrases was “ya veremos”. It means, “we’ll see.” I liked it, because I wasn’t good at talking about the future in this new language, and it gave me a lot of room. Maybe that phrase was so appealing because we hardly ever know what the future is going to be like until it is past. We can work hard, prepare, get out and vote for the people we believe will make the world better, care for those we love with kindness, save money, eat healthy, vote (did I already say vote?). But like most days, like most “before and after” moments in our lives, we don’t know its fullness until we are in “after.”
What will today mean? Ya veremos. We will see.