There are a lot of terrible things happening.
Perhaps just as many as usual, but so more apparent now. I pondered writing out my reflections on 2020 and considered many routes. Lists of my favorite new hobbies brought on by quarantine, touching sentiments about what I learned this year, how I kept myself safe, the new habits I adopted and allowed to bend every now and then, or even my experience as a self-employed person during economic crisis. However, most of the thought holes I’ve fallen into while processing events throughout the year have led me to notice a pattern.
In a year of pivots and growth, there was a steady theme of polarization. People are moving away from the middle of the line in a large widespread fashion, distancing themselves from opposing ideas. With every headline comes a new stance to take. I feel like I’ve absorbed more information this year than in the last decade, and five times as many opinions. So often I wondered why people just couldn’t listen to each other..
In some instances, polarization is good. It causes the middle to shift, offering more support to those who stand firmly against or in support of something. In June we saw more people and businesses than ever acknowledge the problem of racism and stand against it. With more support, more progress can be made. It’s alarming how many people still won’t acknowledge this, but at least there has been growth. You shouldn’t be neutral about racism. You shouldn’t be neutral about COVID-19. You shouldn’t be neutral about climate change. To be apathetic towards any of these crises is a gross privilege that keeps you locked in a bubble of your own doing. 2020 has caused an awakening of thought, a questioning of power, and an awareness of the global ecosystem. So many countries faced major catastrophes on top of the pandemic. There was an explosion in Beirut brought on by a negligent government, climate-related extreme weather events have broken all records in 2020, locusts plagued dozens of countries in Africa and crippled agriculture, Australian bushfires devastated over 31.1 million acres, and 4.2 million acres burned across the western US. The only thing humanity has in common anymore is that we’ve all been traumatized.
That sounds pretty heavy. Let me explain. I’ve been exposed to a lot of trauma this year, and not necessarily my own. I’ve wondered if I’ve caused trauma to others. I’ve wondered how people cope, and tried to understand my own coping processes. I’ve learned that trauma is highly nuanced and there are countless different kinds of it. I learned about agency and why this affects our capacity to respond as individuals. There will be a lot of lasting damage from everything that’s happened, both tangible and intangible. Too many people have suffered, and continue to suffer from grief, anxiety, depression, despair, stress, sickness, and fear. If your year was like mine, it was full of highs and lows. There were silver linings. But not enough to outweigh the awful realities we faced as a society, and more prominently, how humanity responded to these realities.
Take a moment to reflect on the most impactful things you were exposed to this year. Turn to the real conversations you had with people. Not comment sections, not Twitter threads, not news broadcasts, but actual conversations that were one-on-one or in small groups. How did those make you feel? For me it was those kinds of conversations that were most productive and healing, and the comment sections that were not.
Before this year I was not someone who was interested in taking sides. I value a well rounded perspective, I genuinely love learning from people and my curiosity prevented me from finding no value in someone else’s opinions. But now I have become less tolerant of other perspectives. Some things just shouldn’t be negotiated. If you don’t think Black Lives Matter, ask yourself why. If you don’t think you should still wear a mask in public or get vaccinated, ask yourself why. If you don’t think that childcare, healthcare and education should be accessible and equal to all, ask yourself why. If you don’t think climate change is a global crisis, ask yourself why.
Before this year I was not someone who was interested in the news. I avoided it for the most part, getting filled in by my partner when something was worth discussing. Not anymore. I read news emails every morning. I put effort towards researching and developing my opinions on things I don’t understand. I discuss current events with friends and family. We learn from each other. Journalism has increased my awareness tenfold, but it also has morphed into an algorithm, and it’s part of what has caused such so much peer pressure to choose a side.
If you’re undecided or against any of the few things I’ve mentioned, it’s not necessarily your fault. You may be one of millions of people who struggle with discerning the truth from the media, or you may just be stuck in an algorithmic environment that prevents you from learning about other perspectives (go watch the Social Dilemma). Here’s a pro tip; you won’t find the unbiased truth in the news. You’ll begin to find it by connecting with and being open towards other humans. By being willing to learn about their trauma. By listening to someone without an agenda. It's time to un-socially distance your mind. If you trust the news more than other people, ask yourself why.
Social media and mainstream news has become so saturated with inaccuracies that it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s exaggerated. Misinformation has leeched into so many aspects of society. Its shaped so much behavior and caused so much division and hostility. There has been little peace this year, and it’s because too many people have been neutral for too long. 2020 was the year progress was demanded, because it hadn’t been a priority beforehand.
We can thank the lockdowns for making us look inward, for letting us catch our breath, and for giving us time for self care. We can thank the loud voices who stood up for change, who were met with tear gas, for not giving up and for leading the fight against racism. We can thank the healthcare workers for keeping people alive and also bearing so much of the burden that comes with a pandemic. But the work is not done, it’s only the beginning. The more we collectively care, the more action we take, the more progress will be made. If you swung towards the side of not caring while others became louder, ask yourself why.
I think that being neutral is a way of the past. If you don’t have enough information to form an opinion, it’s your responsibility to ask for help. If you feel overwhelmed and scared, you’re not alone. If you’ve made excuses as to why it’s not your problem, you’re part of the problem. The point of all this is that you’re not stuck where you are, you’re allowed to grow, and you’re allowed to change. Change is inevitable. We can’t predict when the tipping points will come but they always will.
I’ll try to sum up this ramble with a few key points:
- listening to your own trauma helps you listen to the trauma of others
- embracing change is easier than fighting it
- the world is flawed, but you can choose to challenge it
- people are not your enemy, misinformation is
I guess this did turn into a “what I learned in 2020” reflection after all. Traditionally on New Years Eve I dedicate my energy towards helping others and celebrating what the future holds. I hope this sentiment carried on my tradition and can help you reflect on the year you had, and the year humanity had. Don’t lose what you learned this year. Don’t let the polarization effect isolate you from reality. Be aware of those who don’t side with you and don’t shame them for the path they are on. Shame only furthers their trauma, and yours. The only way to heal is to listen.
Happy New Year! And thank you for listening ❤️
Happy New Year! And thank you for listening ❤️