Reflections on 2020, Perspective, and Hope
“Rebellions are built on hope.” Jyn Erso, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
As I write my final blog post for 2020, I wanted it to be a reflection on this past year. I assumed I’d write how horrible this year has been, and make no mistake, it has been a very challenging year.
For the first time in 100 years, the world is crippled by a pandemic. Millions have died needlessly. People’s worst impulses have been on display. This has all been exasperated by a political year like one we haven’t seen in over a generation, or several generations. The US presidential election was a display of politics at its worst. There is a classic essay by famed economist F.A. Hayak called “Why the Worst Get on Top.” I recently reread it, and I was starkly reminded that America has been flirting with Fascism and will continue to do so if we as a people do not actively take a stand against would-be Il Duce rhetoric.
While we continue to fight the plague of COVID-19 and political dissonance, 2020 was also a reckoning for the history of America’s racism plague. This plague has been on this land since at least 1619 when the first 19 Africans set foot in New World Virginia. America is STILL dealing with the North Atlantic Slave Trade, which ended not that long ago… then again, the world is still dealing with the Fall of the Roman Empire, which ended 1,600 years ago.
What makes us so arrogant to believe we won’t be dealing with the fallout of slavery for generations to come?
Yet, we should be doing much better, but our racist past has been ignored by White America for too many generations. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many more Black men, women, children should be alive today. Their lives cut short by the Racist Plague that has taken early many lives as COVID-19 has.
Yes, 2020 has been a fucked-up year. Pandemics, economic destruction, selfishness and arrogance, political hatred, racist hatred. Yet, I don’t feel as defeated or down as I thought I would be. I feel hopeful, like I haven’t felt in many years.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized what I already stated: How arrogant to believe this year is the worst year ever. It is conceit that blinds many – a false sense of being special or different from those who came before us. Is anything really as “unprecedented” as we believe? Word of the year, no?
I don’t think so. None of this is new. In his Meditations, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius reminded himself:
“To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.”
That was written almost 2,000 years ago. And it continues to play out the same! Same stage, different actors. This is what gives me hope.
Pandemics? The Spanish Influenza of 1918-1919 claimed an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. However, there was no vaccine created and distributed within 11 months of its onset.
Political conflict? Child please. The American Civil War period was far worse than anything we’re going through today. Yes, Trump is a monster, but at least he’s incompetent. Imagine if he were even half as capable as Mussolini or Franco.* I think it’s a testament to our Country, however fragile it appears, that Trump was soundly defeated and all his attempts to maintain power have failed. (It’s another conversation as to why he received so many votes in the first place, but that’s for another blog).
*While Trump is a wannabe dictator, and there can be little doubt of that, I refuse to liken him to Adolf Hitler as so many others have. In keeping with the spirit of this post – remembering the past – until someone systemically and industrially murders 6 million+ people and starts the deadliest conflict in human history, they are NOT on Hitler’s level. Keep it in perspective, folks.
Racism in America is another story. It takes generations for change to become institutionalized. We cannot, nor will we, change hundreds of years of institutionalized hatred and bigotry. We can, however, continue to chip away at it. And I believe more White Americans have been acknowledging the evil history and present of their homeland, unlike in years past. That’s the difference we need. Black America needs the allyship. White America needs that allyship, too, for our souls.
Whether it’s calling out someone at work for making a horrid comment, actively listening to one another about experiences, making concerted efforts at learning, or making a commitment every day at doing the right thing. All these actions are “little” but important and necessary. It’s the little things done consistently over time that build infrastructure. We need these items to build our foundation for greater, longer lasting change. And the road is long… but we’re finally walking it in greater numbers, or it feels that way. I hope I am not wrong.
The classic line “perspective is everything” has never been more meaningful.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I never used to be one for “hope.” I guess to me, “hope” is a focus on the uncontrollable. Hope is about the expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. We have zero control over if that thing will or will not happen in a majority of instances. I see that as a waste of energy.
Or at least I used to. I’ve grown to believe that hope is important – when tempered and realistic. I use the past to stay grounded. We’ve been here before. We’ve made it through many times prior, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it again.
One of the few things we can control is our actions, our thoughts, our beliefs. I have seen firsthand how study, experience, and conversation have changed mine. I can control the foundation I built within myself in hopes of changing the foundation of others. I cannot control if my actions will change one person’s mind, but I continue to build my own, and that’s important. Just keep swimming. Eventually, the hope is, others will jump in the pool.
If we are to solve issues, whether at our workplace, in our neighborhoods, or in our society, we need to have a rebellious attitude. We need to think differently, challenge convention, and stay strong in the face of weakness. In short, we need hope, because rebellions are built on it.
2020 was a challenging year. It was not the worst year. Even if it were, we’re entering 2021. If you’re reading this, you made it through, and there’s a lot to be hopeful for going forward. Just continue forward. It’s the only place we have to go.