The list of ways 2020 changes our reality grows every day. The big, obvious changes - pandemic disease, mass unemployment, mass eviction, the death of the office, a year without mass gatherings (exigent matters aside) or in-person education - these have tested our way of life, and it is found wanting in many ways.
But for us, our families and communities, this is an opportunity to face ourselves and think through what's truly important to us. Many of our life plans, our career plans, our financial plans, have been put on hold. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to make ends meet, this can be a time of re-evaluation.
The tradition of solitary reflection gets all too little time in the modern world. We think of it as a weekend at the cottage or some other getaway. But it's in long-term iterative work that solitude bears fruit. There was a saying among the Eastern monastics of the early centuries - 'Your cell will teach you all things'. It gives us nothing but our routines, and no choice but to face ourselves in order to make progress. It forces us to push through our own mental blocks.
The other way to think of it is this. For nations and generations that have not experienced war, this is a small taste of that experience, though thankfully without the explosives and projectiles. The fortitude that tends to come out in wartime doesn't have to be reserved for wartime. We are re-learning that kind of mental toughness.
But even calling it toughness is inaccurate. It is a different relationship to present and future, one that pays more attention to the present, and has to accept that the future is literally outside of our ability to control or predict. The only way to build our futures is to use the present as wisely as possible.
For many of us, that means learning new things, working on projects we had previously put on hold, finding ways to contribute to the world that will bear fruit later.
We live in an era of warped priorities. The system that enforces those priorities is in turmoil. This is an opportunity to rethink what is truly meaningful for us as human beings. For many of us, simply being forced to be apart from family and friends has been a wake-up call on that front.
These times have divided communities, but they have also brought them together. Resilient communities come together most during difficult times. People find extraordinary ways to help their neighbours. Sometimes, we even verge on discovering that the genius of human society lies in the creative power of its people rather than the limitations of the system which we so often accept.
I can't help but think of the French Resistance in World War II. People who were unremarkable in ordinary times became heroes - and then the war ended, and they became janitors and hotel doormen. We can't afford to waste the potential we're discovering this time.
Change Is Upon Us
The world is changing now more quickly than it has in a long time. No matter what, the world of work, small business, the food supply, international trade, social infrastructure, government, politics, international relations and many, many other things will be irrevocably altered. This can be our doom, or it can be our moment. This can be our time to plan and create that change, instead of falling victim to it.