Political and social strife, police abuse, systemic racism, deadly results of COVID-19, a dramatic and quick switch to digital and virtual work for many, ‘essential’ workers put in harm’s way without basic protections and support, children who could no longer play, and vast isolation.
2020 has forced a reckoning
Reckoning with the impact of technology on information, news, and society
Reckoning with our racism
Reckoning with our economic inequality
Reckoning with a lifestyle that is destroying the earth
Reckoning with our power — and its limits
We are not who we were when we started.
Lines and intent have been clarified.
We can no longer ignore, deny, or dismiss many of the issues that have been simmering for months, years, and decades. Who sees these issues as a temporary annoyance — and who sees it as an opportunity to knock over statues of false gods?
As I process the year, it feels like a renewal cycle — the destruction required for new things to emerge and flourish. For much of United States history, the cycles of destruction have come in wars and economic collapse. As we get better at mitigating these risks, our destructive cycles have been muted. We have seen more redecorating than we have renovating in the last 40 years. Maybe it was time — things were too complacent, and we had layered on more complexity than the earth and humanity could bear.
Something had to break.
2020 was a year of vulnerability, exposure, anxiety, and anger. It was emotionally exhausting. It was hard to find joy. It was something to endure.
But 2020 was revealing:
- Democracy did not survive unscathed from the corrosive influence of money and power.
- Controlling and patriarchal organizations and cultures have not stood up under the bright light of transparency.
- Our schools and educational traditions are inadequate in the face of a rapidly spinning, complex, and global economy.
- The earth showed us just how much damage we do on a regular basis and seemed relieved to have a break as we quarantined.
- Our economy and stock markets have shown gaping inadequacy in the face of stress — completely out of sync with the majority of people, thus creating separate economies for those who own property, stocks, and companies and those who don’t.
- Our health — and health care — has collapsed under the weight of COVID, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans and stretching our healthcare staff to extremes.
The weight of the challenges we face is breathtaking. Many of us spent the year holding our breath— not knowing when relief would come. That loss of control over our own choices caused many to revolt — rejecting a reality they did not want and inconvenienced them while showing little consideration for their neighbors. Others descended into depression and inertia.
Living through 2020 has changed us. Its division has forced us to commit.
- Are we committed to the dynamics of the past — or are we committed to finding a new path forward?
- Are we committed to the potential of technology or to its limitations?
- Are we committed to racism, or will we fight it?
- Are we committed to broad and shared prosperity or to our patriarchal systems?
- Are we committed to protecting the earth and the environment or will we continue to extract as much as we can without investing in renewal?
- Are we committed to oligarchy or democracy?
Division is destructive, but it is also clarifying. It helps us understand where people stand. Like in sales, it gives us a yes or no rather than a maybe, which is uncertain. It helps us choose and move forward on a path best suited to our needs and interests.
And ultimately, collapse is required for new growth and renewal. It creates space for something different to grow.
As we turn the corner into 2021, I can feel the tender shoots of emergence springing up, fragile and tentative but growing.
When George Floyd was murdered, and the Black Lives Matter movement grew in protest, it wasn’t just Black Americans defending themselves from brutality — it was also many other Americans standing with them. And it wasn’t just in Minneapolis. It was millions of Americans standing up and saying enough, for weeks on end. Statues of traitors who relied on Black oppression came tumbling down — leading to one of the most symbolic and powerful images of the year.
More eligible Americans voted in the 2020 presidential elections than at any time since 1900 — a time when women and those under 21 could not vote. And Americans voted for democracy and representation by a 7 million vote margin.
Combating the pandemic inspired complex partnerships and collaboration. Private companies, foundations, and the government worked together in an unprecedented and well-orchestrated effort to get a COVID-19 vaccine developed, tested, approved, manufactured, and delivered a mere nine months after the pandemic exploded in the United States.
The incoming President has named a Cabinet more diverse than any in history — and with the expectation of its first Native American member in Rep Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. Other Cabinet picks include Janet Yellen, who would serve as the first woman to be Secretary of the Treasury, and Pete Buttigieg, who will be the first gay Cabinet member. Kamala Harris is the first woman Vice President — something has been a long time coming.
Individuals who can now see an end to the pandemic are breathing deeply again. It offers space and energy to assess the impact of the year and everything it exposed. It reveals choices in starker terms — and asks us to commit.
The new year will also be interesting; what areas has 2020 brought us to an inflection point from which we can’t recede? Where will we retrench? Who will move forward, and who will stay back? Will we collectively use this moment as an opportunity or as a threat?
Those questions create energy — energy we will all need to imagine the future we want — and energy we will need to pursue it.
This holiday season, take note of the lights in the darkness. What we focus on is a choice each of us gets to make. What choices are in front of you?
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver