Work It Out


A bit over a week ago, Mary Pilon published an opinion piece called “Where Americans Come Together”
in The New York Times, describing the
closure of a roller skating rink in her hometown. She writes: “Some communities
are formed through schools, churches, workplaces. But much of how we learn
about one another as a society comes from being physically being together…. As
a Skate World kid, I don’t think I could have told you, nor did I care, about
the political leanings of my classmates or their families. We were bound by
something different from the angry Facebook stream we grew up to inhabit: a
genuine interest in spending time together.” Pilon’s argument here, while
perhaps influenced too heavily on nostalgia and romanticism, inspired my design
of an immersive experience to bridge ideological divides, focusing specifically
on the topic of healthcare.


Work It Out is a once-a-week exercise program, which includes
20 minutes of cycling and 25 minutes of yoga—both accessible and engaging exercises
for all ages—such that participants can get both an intense workout for
cardiovascular conditioning and a calmer exercise to increase flexibility and
reduce tension in the body. After 45 minutes of exercise, the exercise
instructors lead a discussion with participants about health. The conversation
will be open-ended, though the exercise instructors will moderate, ensuring
that there are topics for discussion (many of these topics will likely concern
each individual’s health and healthcare concerns) and that the conversation
remains lively and respectful.

The program will be hosted in recreational/community centers
across the U.S. This allows the designed experience to truly feel immersive and
realistic—working out in a nightclub might sound fun but would make little
sense in terms of the experience—and makes it more financially feasible. An
exercise program easily falls in line with most goals of community/recreational
centers, and I believe a settlement could be reached in which profits are
shared. Furthermore, due to the program’s excellent fit within the center’s
programming, marketing can occur through the community center.

Nevertheless, a community center is an atypical location for
most immersive experiences. While an exercise program might be logical for a
community center, one meant to be immersive with a political motive is less
likely. And that is the point—I want participants to believe fully in the fact
that they are there simply to exercise and get healthier, not that they are
part of a community building experiment.

Why this “deception”? Why not directly confront the
potential ideological differences among the participants? A survey concerning
bipartisanship by the Pew Research Center reveals that: 1) people, regardless
of party affiliation, have certain negative associations about people in the
rivaling party; 2) people in rival parties produce emotions of fear or anger;
and 3) talking about politics in-depth with someone who disagrees with them
does not make them feel a greater sense of connection—in fact, people tend to
feel they have less in common with political dissenters afterwards. Due to
these results, I am designing an experience that tries to navigate around party
affiliations and politics, namely by employing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that humans have five
levels of needs, where the more basic of the needs must be fulfilled before the
next level can be reached. My design operates both within and outside Maslow’s
constraints. The “face” of the design—the exercise program—most obviously appeals
to the most basic need of all: the physiological. In that way, the program
unites those of different backgrounds, races, beliefs, and so forth by
reminding them of their similar desires to improve their health. By using the
most basic need to build community, the program ensures that the initial
uniting factor is something that everyone can agree upon. The program then blurs
the lines between the different levels of needs through the discussion. While the
discussion will be about health, it will be moderated to move deeper, touching
upon other levels of needs and hopefully establishing similarities at a higher
level than the most basic—all to build a community within the exercise class.

How can this strategy be effective in increasing respect? I
believe that it allows for the cultivation of dual desires. Namely, all
participants enter Work It Out aware of one desire: their intense commitment to
propagating their ideology about healthcare. Caught up in this desire, they
lose the ability to empathize with different opinions. By building a community
mostly free from politics and united under a common goal, Work It Out allows
its participant to cultivate their desire to empathize, such that when politics
do come into the picture, the participants will be capable of understanding
other experiences in fellow exercise acquaintances, of realizing the humanity
even in those with ideological differences, of seeing the grey between good or
bad. This allows them to learn to balance their two desires—one for ideology,
the other for humanity, so to speak—in a more productive manner.

The topic of healthcare (including women’s health) is certainly
a tricky one; everyone has a different opinion on how to best tackle it. By
putting the topic in the spotlight via a low-stress, nonpolitical manner, Work
It Out allows participants to build a community of understanding around the
topic—all in the hopes that they will learn to be respectful and sympathetic.

Sources (other than class-provided readings):



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