We have said thanks. We have shared gifts. Now we must resolve.
2020 may prove to be one of the greatest tests of our resolve in a generation or more.
There is so much in play: the direction of the nation; the counting of the American population, by example. The din of racial and social justice is always there, like a motor we hear running in the distance. It gets louder with the ebb and flow of news cycles, usually when tragedies have occurred, pulling it closer.
We are fortunate in Vermont that we seem adequately protected from the jagged edges of history. But we are not immune to them. Nor should we be: We learn from them.
As we close out the year (and a decade), it may be more important than ever to know our place in the world. And that could mean not always allowing ourselves to remain in the narrow focus of comfort.
2020 must be a break-out year.
We must resolve to be more active — and not in the traditional Jan. 1 resolution.
For us to effect change in measurable outcomes we need to actively be engaged. That happens in several ways.
First and foremost, be informed. Much of society has become quick to judge based on the lowest common denominator of facts. That has reduced discourse to heated exchanges of sound bites, when what is actually needed is a discussion (or it could be a debate) based on facts. Being informed means just that: subscribe to a newspaper; read commentaries and essays; take out books from the library on topics about which you feel you need to know more. In the absence of information, we tend to fill in the blanks with assumption and conjecture. The result is no different than trying to complete a mathematical equation, or proof, with variables missing. Basic logic dictates that we cannot proceed to the next line without that full understanding of the previous.
Secondly, we need to open ourselves up to perspectives that run counter to ours. Seek them out. Don’t just dabble in it for a few moments in a token “I switched the channel and heard what they are saying,” but rather read and understand the points of view that shape the thinking — the tenets of the beliefs. You do not have to agree with what is believed, but understanding what is being said — and most importantly “why” it is being said — may reshape your thinking, and even bring us closer to a middle ground where the discussion can be had. The extremes get the most attention for being the most shrill, the loudest.
Thirdly, stop saying “they.” We resolve to push through the challenges ahead. And “they” are still our family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. The adage suggests we have more in common than not. Change your narrative to be inclusive. Shed intolerance, take a hard look at your biases and learn to understand how what you do may actually be a part of the problem. (That may be the hardest thing you will have to do in 2020.)
Fourth, know how things work. Government, bureaucracy, legislation and the courts are complicated in their own rights. To have an impact means knowing how to get your concern into the right hands. It is fine to be one of many, but it’s more effective to be the person who raises the point, or offers the perspective, no one thought of.
Next, be engaged. Commit yourself to an action. That means a lot of things. It ranges from taking part in public discussions on issues (hold a neighborhood potluck where you actually do talk politics; there need to be some ground rules on civility, of course) to making sure that you vote. The in-between can be volunteering for a cause or campaign; it could be writing letters to the editor; or it could be reaching out to lawmakers (local or in the congressional delegation) to let your concerns be known. It can also mean protesting, but have the answer ready if someone asks you: Why are you here?
Understand one more thing: It is not about winning and losing. The needle never goes all the way to one side or the other — nor should it. History does not work that way. Revolution is always followed by a demise and another uprising. If you are banking on victory, you will always be disappointed. In fact, compromise, by definition, is all sides leaving the table without something they wanted.
Some argue we invited the times we live in. There is some truth to that. Social media and the internet provide us the comfort of like-minded people. But that has also created an isolation that has changed us into spectators.
We must find our individual voice and use it. We must explore why we feel so strongly and convert it into action. And we must resolve to be more graceful around the jagged edges of history.
Otherwise, we falter worse.