My name is Vance Stiles, and I am one of the Youth Interns at MPPC this summer. I am a rising senior at UNC- Chapel Hill double majoring in Public Policy and Economics.

            Every single public policy class and economics class starts with some similar topics, grading, the role of the professor, and most importantly “the role of data in decision making”. We like to cover three things in our “data” section: every statement that you can make with data is never definite, correlation is not causation[1]and, if we have a large enough sample, you’ll usually approximate the true value of the population. These three points are essential to these classes, but I also think they’re good things to apply to daily life in the continued world with Corona. 

            So that first point, “Every statement that you can make with data is never definite”. I’ve never felt that being truer that today. Each day seems to bring in new information, new answers, and new questions. I am reminded of this with every email I’ve received that starts with “in these uncertain times”. To make any predictions about how long we will be living under the threat and effect of the Corona virus, or how we will be affected (finically, emotionally, mentally) or how we should act is a bit of a foolhardy exercise.

Thankfully we can be absolutely certain of some things. First, there is a plan, and you might grow tired of this verse, but I think we always need a reminder of it, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11. Second, we can always lean into creating certainty. As my mom says, “If you’re worried about the things you can’t control, find ways to control your worries around them.” So how do we assuage our fear and unrest? For me, I’ve learned to lean into the challenge of monastic routine, a life that creates structures that brings about creativity, deeper thought, and change. In constraining our choices, we enable ourselves into decisions that are productive, healthy, and easy to make.[2]Maybe this process starts with sitting down with the family and setting goals that will stretch each of you to grow in faith, body, or mind. If you have a hard time forming goals and challenges, try using the SMART method[3] in creating them! Again, we are HIGHLY uncertain of how long we will be in these times, so why not create goals and challenges that allow for us to rid our days of the uncertainty and let us ground ourselves in the certain. (One thing you can be certain of is MPPC worship each Sunday! And maybe if Sunday doesn’t feel like a regular Sunday, the beauty of online worship is that it can be on any day!)

            Second, correlation is NOT causation. We’re not going to be able to directly predict the effects of Corona off of a simple correlation of events. Thoughts like, “With more of the family home, we can grow closer!”, “Having all this free time, I’ll be so much more productive.”, and “I’ve been watching so much Bon Appetit Test Kitchen[4], I’ll be a master chef by the end of this!” lie at the feet of this fallacy (Not trying to call anyone out here, these are all thoughts I had late March). So, learn to take a step back. Evaluate the goals you might have set well before quarantine, evaluate the goals you made at the beginning of quarantine. Did they lead to the result you expected? Did they lead somewhere else? What could you have learned from them? 

Look for the deeper causal relationships that might have undermined your goals.. Those SMART goals made in the above paragraph are going to have to be reevaluated and rewritten over time. Look for the causal roots for why you chose them, and what their impacts have revealed. We’re playing the long game here, so think of this time as one big experiment. You’ve got a whole summer and fall of Corona (and I say that with a high level of certainty), so why not try new things out? (Like starting your morning with the 8am online devotional!) To just sit around and “meh” out is something that we are warned against, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:16. Don’t let your goals become lukewarm, bring yourself to leave them if they’re cold, and strike on the hot ones! 

            Third, if we have a large enough sample, the sample mean will approximate to the “true” mean of the population. To approximate this to our situation, you’re not going at it alone even if it feels like you are. Over the course of our life, we are expected to meet from 80,000 to 100,000 people. That’s only 0.00001% of the world population! If one of those people don’t share a similarity to what you’re feeling, you’ve got 99.99999% of the population left who might be in a similar situation. “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ” -1 Corinthians 12:12. To see the truth of this, increase your sample size. Talk to those you normally wouldn’t, those who you haven’t in a while, or those you don’t have “deep” talks with. Learn from them and see where the “true mean” lies. Odds are, your results will increase in validity the wider you cast your net.[5]

I hope y’all will be able to take some of my rambling and do something with them! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions! They can range from “Vance, what was the socio-economic climate of the New Testament[6] and what can we learn from that?” to “What is your favorite economic indicator[7]?” to “Why does UNC stand for University of National Championships[8]?” and I’ll do my best to answer them! 


[1] For a funny read on examples of supercorrelation with little to no causation, check out https://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

[2] Marketers use this tactic on us all the time! It’s called the Decoy Effect https://theconversation.com/the-decoy-effect-how-you-are-influenced-to-choose-without-really-knowing-it-111259

[3] Quick gide to SMART goals  https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/other/smart-goal/

[4] If you haven’t heard of Bon Appetit https://www.bonappetit.com/tag/test-kitchen

[5] Just a really good read on probability and human behavior! https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-hard-truth-of-poker-and-life-youre-never-due-for-good-cards/

[6] https://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/spiritualformation/faithaction.html

[7] https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/RSCCAS

[8] https://goheels.com/news/2015/6/10/205473190.aspx