Most of us are happy to put 2020 behind us and move forward with hopes for a better year. Yet, the pandemic still rages, vaccines are slow to roll out, many families still struggle, challenges of remote learning remain, and other issues that we found difficult in the past year are following us into the new year. So, before we put 2020 behind us, perhaps we should look back over our shoulders and take stock of what we’ve learned, what we acquired that we want to make sure we keep, and what we definitely want to let go of.
In reality, not everything about 2020 was bad. Here are some of the positive things many of us experienced:
Slowing down. For a large number of people, the pace of life slowed dramatically. Not commuting to a job every day and the narrowing of entertainment choices like travel, restaurants, concerts, sporting events, and movies gave many the perspective that we don’t have to be doing something all the time. Families ate together more frequently at home, not having to race to get their children to a myriad of practices and games. For many, the idea of “quality” time became a reality.
Gratitude. Struggle and tragedy taught us to be grateful for simple things and the truly important things that we may have taken for granted. For instance, our friends and family members. Our pandemic friends (the safe “pods” we created to keep ourselves sane) will surely be lifelong friends and may become a part of our extended family. These are the people who helped to get us through—and are still helping us, and we them.
Giving back. We became more aware of the gaping needs in people’s lives and that it takes a village to meet them. Not only did we understand more acutely the needs of those facing economic and food insecurity, but also people facing great loneliness and loss. Where we had the opportunity to give back, we did, and at the same time helped to sooth our own feelings of loneliness and loss—realizing at the same time, giving back is the surest way to do so.
Accentuation of talents and roles. Whether it was the teacher who taught our children, the delivery person who brought our packages, or the grocery store clerk who cleaned our cart and provided a safe environment in which to shop—we became much more aware of the importance of everyone who kept things going so we could keep going. We also had the opportunity to see new talents surface in those closest to us, perhaps because they were needed in new ways, or simply because we had more time to observe them.
Yet, there are definitely things we will want to try to leave behind as we put our toes in the water of 2021. Here are just a few:
Fear. No doubt COVID-19 made most of us fearful at some point—for our health and the health of our loved ones, as well as our economic security. And while concern is always warranted, we should allow ourselves to let go of the type of fear that is crippling. We have made it this far, and that’s progress. There are many hopeful things on the horizon including vaccinations for all who will take them. The economy is sure to rebound as a result—and with it, there will be increased opportunities for all.
Divisiveness. Ironically, COVID-19 was the great equalizer—in that it reminded us all of the frailty of being a human. In truth, if we take a hard look, there is more that we have in common with our fellow humans than things we don’t. We have also become aware that little has been accomplished by feeding the fires of division. In the coming year it would be wise to listen more, judge less, and try to increase our understanding of one another.
A dubious relationship with the truth. Our trust in what is true and the sources we rely on to provide it may be the biggest and most serious casualty of the last year. We need to remind ourselves, and our students, how important it is to be seekers of the facts—even when they are not what we expect or want to hear. The truth and being able to trust in those who relay it are foundational to everything we do. Without it we have nothing.
Take some time to contemplate these hindsight reflections and add your own. It’s vital that we go into 2021 acknowledging the wisdom we have gained from 2020. We learned more than we realize. And with the right reflection, we will have gained much more than we lost.