I was not ready for what this year became. I suspect you, reader, were not either.
This year was hard. Though like many others I tried to make do with what was dealt. I spent more time alone than usual and wrote about feeling the need to be cared for as a single person. Travel was mostly nonexistent, save for one coordinated trip to the South for a week in June to see & quarantine with close friends. The April marathon I trained for was canceled. Yet I continued running throughout the year and almost logged 700 miles. Neighbor Bob and I masked up and replaced the basement and stair tile. I completed a year at my not-so-new job. I also made some new friends while nerding out over stationary. So not all was lost.
However, I also found 4 gray hairs. That is not acceptable. Thanks a lot, 2020!
I’ve struggled to find the words to properly summarize the last 12 months, which is why this is being posted in late December. This wasn’t a milestone birth year where I gained new superpowers nor did I become eligible for any new life perks. The intent of these annual birthday/end-of-year blog posts has been to discern what themes were most prevalent in my life and to pause & reflect.
This was a year of incredible significance and eye-opening revelations about the world around me. I was challenged. Some relationships were strengthened while others were strained. I watched too much news and read too many tweets. All of 2020 left me with a lot of questions about what to do moving forward, though I always remain somewhat hopeful for the future because I’m still an idealist at my core.
Of Nuance, Questions, Listening, and Understanding Our Fellow Man
America’s collective inability to or deliberately choose not to have conversations that leave space for questions or uncertainty has frustrated me for some time. I sense we may fear lingering in any gray zone or any difficult in-between space where something is not certain. We remove room in our minds or within our social circles to have thoughts and opinions that don’t definitively line up with a category or archetype we can file and assign attributes to. And once sides are chosen, it’s likely we also stop rationally interacting with whoever that “other” group is. And because of that, conclusions are jumped to and gross mischaracterizations are made. We generalize and stop listening. We say we are too busy or too tired or too correct in our own thinking to listen to others.
Definition of Nuance (Merriam-Webster):
- 1 : a subtle distinction or variation.
- 2 : a subtle quality : nicety.
- 3 : sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value)
Who has time anymore to allow for nuance? Or time to go back and forth or to dive into the subtleties of language or each other’s unique experiences that have shaped them? Why ask reasoned questions to have a point clarified or to better know what drives & motivates your fellow human about what they think or believe? When it comes to what we are unsure of or don’t want to explore uncomfortable or sensitive issues, it’s easier to make (often negative) assumptions, label them, then judge them based on the least endearing traits of that label you just gave them.
This year, I was accused of being “too nuanced” and standing behind a veil of “pretend objectivity.” It is fair to say I choose to publicly not to be so blunt in my viewpoints and I have my reasons for doing so. I have a general aversion for conflict and confrontation, for one, but I have also tried to live and interact with others in such a way that I create a welcoming space for conversation and dialogue that is measured, thoughtful, not personally attacking, and respectful. My voice doesn’t always need to be the loudest one in the room.
But making that space doesn’t make for clean, cut and dry living. Meeting people where they are at and varied perspectives and ideas collide is hard work. It creates discomfort. It requires us to hear and wrestle with the unknown. Fear of being wrong can make some of us feel less confident, which we are quietly told to be at all times no matter the circumstance. We don’t always leave much space for adults to feel safe to reflect on tough and complicated ideas and issues and not have all the answers. How we talk with and ask questions of each other should create room for fruitful dialogue. So much of life is not that straightforward and demands time to wrestle with it. I hope we all take time to go deeper and allow more grace in how we engage in tough conversations. I long for that to be an environment we all regularly foster and encourage online and off.
Everything I Do, I Do It For Me
All that we lose when we worry about our own circles
Politics and pandemics in America brought out something special in all of us.
I have been struck by the callous selfishness of a large portion of the American population and how open people were with looking out for themselves. To call the administration’s federal response a disappointment is an enormous understatement. We can look at how other countries handled things for better examples of what it means to care for their citizens. America is no more or less special in a world with COVID-19, but we somehow made it all about us (in media coverage at least) almost as though nobody else was dealing with the same challenges.
Yet the most disappointing part was watching those in leadership positions, particularly from those who call themselves Republicans, make decisions to keep or build power for themselves or focus on money and economy instead of primarily focusing on keeping citizens safe. (This is not to say Democrats or Independent government officials have been perfect, but they were not in the White House in 2020.) The blatant selfishness and lying about their intents and goals never felt so obvious and on display and instead of working to provide assistance and look out for the safety of those they represent, they voted for money and “freedom” over all else in so many situations until COVID cases skyrocketed in their states. Non elected roles with this level of failure in a company would have been fired. We should have voted more of them out for failing to do their jobs.
I am still saddened that science and public health and safety became a political issue in 2020. Because I’m told to wear a mask in public, “personal freedom” was somehow being taken away without concern for the well-being of my fellow human is beyond appalling. Because maintaining power was the priority, we collectively failed at protecting SO many lives. This should shake us all to our core, yet the numbers didn’t move us as I thought they would.
We all vote for candidates and political parties for various reasons. That is the right we all have as citizens. We hope for a myriad of issues to be tackled by a candidate, such as wanting judges of our party’s persuasion to be appointed to express our views and shape a certain agenda forward as cases are brought to them, to improve policies that address how we care for natural resources or implement smarter tax codes, find better ways to care for those marginalized by the systems we have had in place for decades, create budgets that align with our views, etc. Yet, what took me by surprise this year was that after watching our government soundly fail at keeping our fellow citizens safe and guiding them with information that was born out of politics and power than science and the best interests of the people, millions still voted for more of what we have/had regardless of the losses and pain the country is facing. Maintaining the power of the current party in the highest office still seemed the better choice.
Millions decided what we lived through in 2020, and to an extent, the last four years was acceptable and worth the heartache and loss we experienced together due to leadership that chose to look out for their own self-interests. Millions voted for what felt most important for themselves vs what was best for the sake of our country in a once-in-a-generation health crisis. I wondered what the breaking point is for any of us to give up our own selfish gains and seats of power for the greater good. We have to ask ourselves if we think is most important still is in the face of moments like we had this year. Sometimes the goalposts moved and we must move to meet the moment.
Time to Try Something New
2021 will bring new challenges and new leadership. I long for better days and decisions from our government and actions that reflect the fact they serve the people and not the other way around. If that doesn’t come, we should all call them out and keep them accountable, especially if we voted for those people in those offices. My deep hope is we dial down the hyperbole and rhetoric with one another. Sharing “hot takes” to rile people need to not be a thing anymore. Leave that for the entertainers who crave clicks and views. I desire a new year where we can talk earnestly about what’s real, feel OK about getting bruised up in the trenches as we work through the hard stuff together. If we can do that with love and respect, we’ll all be a little better off.