Ok, let’s be honest; for many, 2021 was like riding a lit dumpster downhill. Only world wars have touched so many so deeply. Many will be glad to see it in the rearview mirror.
If you’re like me you start to feel like an actor in a movie like Outbreak where a deadly disease threatens civilization. A more surprising comparison has been the shark movie Jaws, where the mayor refuses to close the beach on a money-making holiday despite impending doom from the ocean. It raises the question: exactly how much should we restrict freedoms and business economies in order to safeguard a population? Just as there are acceptable restrictions for the sake of safety, are there acceptable death rates in order to maintain democracy? Some argue, for example, that lowering the speed limit to 30 would save lives. Why don’t we do that?
The pandemic has created a myriad of moral and ethical discussions in the Western countries’ unlike any we’ve had since World War II. We all try to maintain our moral hygiene, but our brain gets clogged with convoluted arguments that no amount of brain floss will clear. We are confronted with openings, closings and the restriction of privileges that we expect from a democratic society—the freedom to shop, walk and generally move about. We have found ourselves awash in conspiracy theories that have us reaching for metaphorical tinfoil hats.
These days I often think about a mission I took to North Korea. I recall a conversation where my North Korean minder told me that the Americans wanted to invade. They pointed to 30,000 armed troops poised on the border as their proof. No amount of conversation and tongue dexterity would convince my North Korean guide that the troops existed to prevent the North from walking into the South. For them, the evidence was right there on the border. I find discussions about current government COVID policies equally frustrating. Those who suggest that we’re not in some apocalyptic reset or a conspiracy are reminded of COVID policing, Internet censorship and arm twisting of employees to get vaccinated as evidence. They point to their proof just as my North Korean friend pointed to the presence of American soldiers as his.
Affirmation theory suggests that we tend to see things that affirm our beliefs while we disregard information that doesn’t. We look for things that prove our case. Those who see opposing evidence are seen as misled or worse, probed by aliens. We all do this to some degree. This year some of us have had to do it more than ever, as sometimes conflicting and contradictory information puzzles us. Whether you support shutdowns, vaccinations and what-not, we all have ways to justify our position. In the same way we are all passionate about supporting different political parties. How can that be, given that we all have access to the same information?
I’d like to convince you of my position just like you’d like to convince me of yours.
As I look to 2022 I have some pretty big new year’s wishes for us all. I’m not sure I can keep these wishes myself, but I’d like to try.
My first wish is for us to be less sure about all that is going on. I actually think we’ll be happier. Some armchair experts seem so sure of things when I’m not. I don’t want to let the government off the hook, but I rather think they are trying to figure this stuff out like the rest of us. They won’t always be right but I don’t think they are colluding to destroy my freedom. My wish for us is that we will try to be comfortable taking each day as it comes. It will be better for our mental health.
Can I hope that we can be less dogmatic in our opinions about what government ought to do? To be comfortable with the fact that there are things we don’t know and some things that we will never know? When this pandemic ends, and science says it will, we will continue to debate whether we handled it properly.
Further, I hope in 2022 that we can avoid making enemies of people on the opposite side of the political and philosophical spectrum. They are people like you and me. The same goes for health-care workers, pharmaceutical executives, news media as well as pro- and anti-vaxxers. They are regular folk.
I also hope in 2022 that we can see that contradictions are sometimes just paradoxes. At the very least, this may make us gentler when picking sides. I don’t know if it will matter what side you chose in 2025? I do know that my friends will matter to me. These relationships I value. The rest I’m not sure about.
And finally in 2022, a practical hope that we will support struggling businesses that are supporting their families and that carry a significant burden by paying their taxes.
I continually remind myself that these are turbulent times for many, no matter what community you call home. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you don’t stand your ground or defend your opinions or within reason live your life the way you want. However, as much as possible, I think it’s important to seek the way of reconciliation and peace with your neighbours this year. Maybe that could be our great reset. That is my set of new year’s wishes.
Peace and blessings be upon your head.