I was inspired by this weekend’s full moon (the first of three supermoons!) to look up the context of Chekov’s quote. Alas, it turns out Chekov did not say this, at least not exactly: the more accurate quote is from a letter to his brother, when he advised, “You’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or wolf rolled past like a ball.”
Still, the advice is clear, and it’s timeless: showing beats telling.
Lately at work I’ve been thinking a lot about measuring hard-to-measure things, things like quality of life or ecosystem health or community spirit. We’ve created some sophisticated and useful tools for all of these, and we can measure all sorts of elements and their interconnections in more complete and nuanced ways than ever before.
And it feels good to measure: partly because we are not so comfortable relying on feelings and stories, and also because those stories can be wrong, even when they are thoughtful and earnest and compelling. But gosh, for the most interesting questions, this measuring process is still error-prone, and time consuming, and expensive, and wow, it sure can be tedious.
Chekov has me thinking, is there another way? Maybe not a substitute, but a complement?
There’s a benefit to measuring the moon, calibrating its size and brightness and place in the sky, and I’m glad to be engaged in that kind of analysis.
Still, when the ball of shadow rolls past in the moonlight, I don’t want to have my face in a spreadsheet. I want to experience the showing, even as I work on the data for the telling.
Dear Honeybees, are you waiting for proof? Are you waiting for someone to tell you the time is right, the data is conclusive, the study is finished, the facts all confirm it, there is zero doubt, the moon is out?
For sure, let’s keep questioning and analyzing and measuring and learning together.
And let’s also acknowledge that sometimes, the gleam and the glitter are already there for all to see.
Sometimes we are waiting for proof of what we already know.
* Photo from NASA, from the Apollo 11 mission.