2020 Musings: The Cycle Ends, and A New Story Begins.
Well friends. Here we are.
2020 was supposed to be many things to many people. It was, ideally, the kickass prologue to a whirlwind new decade, a promise of innovation, some fresh new writing, and generally slick set up for a great first act and some first rate character development. And isn’t that the case with every new year? To use another, odder, metaphor, we are like snakes cyclicly shedding our skins, excitedly discarding the itchy, loose, dusty old matter so that we can break in something fresh, new and hopefully more fashionable.
Unfortunately that new skin ended up fitting like a pair of thrift store shoes, and smelled just as funny.
We got what we got. And while 2020 wasn’t ideal writing, it set up an interesting script nonetheless. All shocks and twists considered, the narrative itself isn’t that fresh. It’s yet another reboot of an old soap with a different cast.
Our world has always had its share of conflicts, social rollercoaster rides, challenges and surprises of varying flavors. From day one this has been the human cycle, and perhaps is an insight to the intrinsic nature of existence. To take an observational perspective on what many would dub one of the worst years in modern history, what we collectively experienced was nothing staggeringly new. Generations before me have lived through wars, depressions, devastating lapses in social ethics, economic collapses and more. Disaster is cyclic. This observation isn’t just to look at the silver lining of things or be glib about the past as the hours tick towards 2021. It’s to recognize that every generation goes through a moment of collective pain, and what defines that generation is not that moment of pain, but how they emerge from it, and who they become.
My hot take is that 2020 has been both a terrible and an incredible year. We have lost many souls, and we’ve also gained many. It’s the bittersweet reality of life continuing on amidst hardship.
We have slogged through the global sicknesses of a rampaging virus and grappling with modern day racism. Both have forced us all to show each other who we really are, and in some ways evolve because of that.
In a brave new world of remote engagement, we have learned how to “pivot” and make lemonade out of a hell of a lot of lemons. In some surprising ways, the distance we have had to manufacture in order to keep each other safe has brought us closer together.
We’ve shown incredible resilience and courage in the face of an unnatural “new normal” (let’s kill that phrase in 2021 please), both personally and professionally.
We have learned (well, some of us) how to empathize with those who do not share our world views or personal experiences.
We have learned the value of slowing down, and being patient.
We have also learned the value of speaking up and not fearing the social repercussions of saying what is right and true.
Many of us, especially the younger among us, have learned to reflect on history and the mistakes and innovations of past generations. Hopefully the new generation will be able to synthesize a better lesson from all that has come before, and lay the groundwork for a future where “inclusion”, “diversity” and all those other concepts aren’t just trendy buzzwords, but rather just the way things naturally are.
Humanity is constantly moving towards an ideal state of perfection, utopia, peace, whatever you want to call it. We have split ourselves into groups of thought and isms that we each deeply believe to be true because our souls or spirits are drawn to those ideas. And then we spend our lives pushing our chosen narrative because we ultimately believe that if others think the way that we do, the whole world will ultimately become a better place.
I’m about to get nerdy, sorry. As a Trekkie (famous last words), I am compelled to think of an antagonist in the Star Trek series called the Borg. A sentient artificial intelligence that assimilates creatures in order to become “more perfect”. The concept of the Borg was a great critique of many social elements, but partially of humanity’s own initiative towards something higher and better — too often at the cost of morality or individuality when mindless groupthink takes over.
Like the Borg, we also seek perfection in various ways. And we surround ourselves with people who subscribe to our idea of perfection. Sometimes those collectives we create are genuinely bringing something positive and valuable to life. And too often, when there is an absence of critical thinking, empathy or ethics, they are more destructive and harmful than helpful.
My point here, however buried under Trek analogies, goes back to the idea of cyclic disaster, how we respond to it, and how that response informs the people that we become. Our good intentions for the world should not turn us unwittingly into monsters. And we should always be aware of the reality of this life. Life is inherently flawed, but we can navigate those flaws in decent, courageous ways that ultimately have a positive impact.
I think that 2020 has helped many of us suddenly see how fragmented our human collective is. And that revelation has united just as many of us in the effort towards — if not “perfection” — then at least the goal of creating societies and cultures that are less divided, more humane, and populated by even more resilient, intelligent, empathetic, and kind individuals.
The year held a lot of hardship for humanity at large, hardship which we will likely still be extricating ourselves from in the new year. But we can still hold on to the hope and promise of how we can emerge from 2020's ashes as a better kind of person for this world. So, all things considered, I thank 2020 for its hard lessons and its moments of triumph. I bid it GOOD DAY, and hope for 2021 to be a much better story.