Organize Blog

A few months ago I was having coffee with Judd Kessler. (I do this every once in a while so I can hear all of his thoughts and then pawn them off as my own. We are a good team because he is smarter than I am but I talk more.)

We were at Ports Coffee in Chelsea (which has since closed, which is heartbreaking). For anyone who remembers Ports, we were sitting by the window to the right of the door, which has the best seating, but the tables are basically on top of each other. As we were talking, some really nosy woman leaned over and interrupted us.

Actual conversation

Nosy woman: What are you guys talking about?

Me: Organ donation.

Nosy woman: Oh. Gross.

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It struck me that once we talked through things a bit more, she had no aversion at all to organ donation as a concept – she was just repulsed, almost as a reflex by the term “organ donation.” I don’t blame her. It might be the “rg” sound in “organ.” It just sounds so clinical and un-beautiful. Then I thought about what if I’d tried to explain it to her without using the words “organ donation” at all, as if it were a brand new thing and my dad had actually received the first transplant in the world.

Fake conversation

Nosy woman: What are you guys talking about?

Me: Um, actually, the craziest thing ever. My dad was sick for a really long time and the doctors couldn’t cure him, until one day this mad scientist doctor walked into the room all crazy-eyed like Emmett Brown from Back to the Future and was like ‘Hey, guys, totally wild idea. I think I can take someone else’s heart and make it beat in your dad’s chest.’

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Nosy woman: Yeah, and? What happened?

Me: It worked perfectly. No complications, full recovery. Right now my dad is just kicking it at home, probably doing the crossword puzzle in his robe.

Granted, the counter-factual on this is hard to prove, but my guess is that the woman would have been fascinated rather than disgusted. Strip away everything else, and the underlying medical procedure is one of the coolest things human beings can do. Without any other context, if someone had no clue what “organ donation” was, imagine how that story would land. Imagine trying to explain it to someone from the 1800s. It would blow their minds. We can literally infuse life into a dying person and heal them overnight. How is this getting lost in translation?

I wish I had a better term with which to replace “organ donation” (I can’t think of one). But I’m also not convinced we need words at all. Language is limited. At best it’s imperfect; at worst it’s corruptive. When I have a thought in my head and I want to put it in yours, that thought is inherently bastardized when I try to reduce it to English words (as a former journalist, this pains me to write). So what better ways can we build that allow people to make – “organ donation” – a social norm? For lack of a better analogy, how can we turn organ donor registration into the Artist Formerly Known as Prince of medical decisions?

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That’s the bar we’re setting for our design team – to create a visual experience so strong and beautiful that we no longer need words to describe how amazing this all is: the scientific marvel of transplant; the intensely human desire to grapple with themes of life and death and purpose; the simple, unifying idea that everyone is built of the same flesh and blood, that at some level we’re all interdependent and interchangeable. Didn’t Adam give Eve his rib? How much more deep-seated could this be in our culture that that?

Language doesn’t do this justice. We’re doing something bigger. Email us atinfo@organize.org with ideas.

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