The Best and Worst of Times

by C.J. Sommerville

The best and worst of times

A YEAR FOR THE BOOKS

By now, we are all ready for the year to be over.  There are plenty of detailed recaps all over the Internet on the calamity of 2020.  In fact, we all had first-hand experience.  That said, the only recap you truly need is your own.  Instead, the focus here will be a view on how to "move forward".  Not "recover" or "rebound".  We should never go back to the nation we were pre-2020.  But the nation we can be post-2020 is still up for grabs.

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The Landscape

For this "move forward" viewpoint, the major disruptions this year can be categorized as follows:

CORONA'S INVASION
It's unfortunate that such a majestic-sounding name as Corona, in these times, is associated with a viral assassin. COVID-19, as it has come to be known, has become the antagonist of humanity with an insatiable desire to consume and multiply.  Each infection resulting in an involuntary spin of a roulette barrel hoping for a hollow chamber.  To date, more than 1.6 million people globally have not been so fortunate.  It's amazing how something so destructive comes in an all-but-invisible (invisible to the naked eye that is) package making adequate defense nearly impossible.

TRUMPADEMICS
Love him or hate him, very few public figures in this modern era have been more disruptive than President Trump. To say Trump has been an unconventional president is a gross understatement. His policies, behaviors, and rhetoric have boldly provoked ethical boundaries within the nation that was historically always present, but perhaps thinly veiled. Beyond partisan politics, the paradigms of privilege, race, leadership, and general humanity have all been interrogated while his administration has been at the wheel. For the first time in a while, the nation has been forced to face its core values.  And nearly half the country does not like what it sees. 

THE RACE IS ON
It may seem that there is not much the citizens of this country can agree on. But if there was one thing everyone would echo in unison, it would be "I can't wait until the election is over".  The 2020 election was just brutal,  in a "no, don't just turn off the TV, cut the cord" kind of way. The agony of awaiting results over the course of four or so days before mainstream media outlets could project a "winner" was akin to awaiting notification on whether or not you were selected for a job after an interview.  During the wait, the company sends you constant email, text, and phone call updates stating you will likely get the job, but then again you might not, but the hiring manager really likes you, but the VP is leaning toward another candidate, but you were the strongest candidate, but they are reevaluating the role, but... It's the back and forth that's brutal. That's why companies do not notify until they are certain.  This avoids confusion, frustration, and responses such as "to hell with the job!"  Perhaps the media outlets should take a note here.

THE RACE IS OFF
Not since the days of Jim Crow has a nation been more racially divided. Despite four industrial revolutions, radical changes in climate, the Internet, and a variety of international "slights of hand" that are indicative of an ensuing world war (cyber or otherwise), the core of our country (and perhaps the world) sees race as a principle differentiator resulting in the perpetuity of conscious and unconscious racial biases. The death of George Floyd, and the many similar cases before it, has made this painfully evident. Mr. Floyd's death was the final ripple in a lake of racial tension that ultimately led to the dam's failure.  This forced the nation to cast a light on policing practices in minority communities.  The nation struggled to address its biases and violence erupted.

Rather than debate the merits of the conservative Blue Lives Matter or the liberal Defund the Police, it would be more academic to focus on the numbers. And the data says that annually, there are more whites killed by police than blacks, or any other race for that matter. In fact, as of summer of 2020, there were 370 whites killed by police versus 192 blacks.

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The numbers state that nearly twice as many whites were killed this year by police than blacks.  So we can rule out racial targeting and discrimination... right?

The population of the US is about 330,000,000 people. About 76% are white and 13% are black (according to the 2019 census). This means that there are roughly 251,000,000 whites and 43,000,000 blacks in this country. When factoring the data in the charts above, this implies that roughly 1.5 whites per million were killed by police, yet 4.5 blacks per million were killed by police. Adjusting for percentages, the data indicates that blacks are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites. Certainly, there are other factors to consider, such as crime density in urban environments, socioeconomics, and other inputs that could influence these percentages.  However, it is unlikely these factors would fully account for the 3x deviation.

Road to Recovery

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The country is arguably more divided now than it's been since the Civil Rights era.  In the midsts of a pandemic and economic uncertainty, cumulative to day-to-day challenges we face independently (life, love, and the pursuit of happiness) and collectively (the onslaught of technology and social media aimed at youth), everyone seems to be fighting a battle on all fronts.  And after 2020, we are all angling a mirror to peek around the corner of 2021 attempting to avoid prematurely exposing ourselves to whatever may be waiting there.

The silver lining here is that those of us who survived 2020 have grown, perhaps not as intended or preferred, but growth nonetheless.  And no one said growth would be easy or painless.  We've collectively been through a struggle and endured rough times.  Collectively.. i.e., together.  This narrative is atypical.  Most times, when our nation experiences widespread suffering, the large majority are afflicted while the privileged appear to fiendishly avoid impact (remember the Lehman shock in 2008?).  Not the case this time around.  This year, we ALL got burned.  With those lumps of knowledge, we can choose to establish a "new normal" that is considerably better than the old.  Here's how:

FACE THE RISK COVID MAY BE HERE TO STAY
It's easy to believe that COVID-19's presence is temporary.  After all, the smallpox pandemic was eradicated, the Spanish flu ended, and medicine has come a long way since the Black plague.  So, surely, COVID is a temporary disruption.  Not so fast.  HIV has continued to devastate since the early 1980s.  AIDS-related illnesses account for about 700,000 deaths annually worldwide.  Tuberculosis is another pandemic that, to this day, kills 1.5 million people annually.  Thus, the possibility that COVID will turn from visitor to resident is real.

In such case, we will have to adopt new behaviors and rules to ensure continued survival.  Masks will likely become a mainstay until a vaccine can be safely administered to the population.  And even then, the vaccine may not prevent infection of COVID-19, but may only lessen its effects (similar to the flu shot against the seasonal flu).  So mask use will remain recommended.  Regardless, there will be an expectation that the majority of the population get vaccinated to reduce the risk of mass spread.  Fundamentals such as handwashing and social distancing will continue to be emphasized for the foreseeable future.

That said, make the mental switch now to understand that the world before 2020 will look nothing like the world after 2020.  For example, crowd-gathering will be tightly monitored and regulated.  Expect a trip to the movies, sporting events, or concerts to be very different.

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UNIFY WASHINGTON
OK, let's just put this out there now. Very few of us are 100% all-in with one ideology.  So why should partisanship be any different?  You can be conservative about guns and liberal about marijuana.  Many of us lean one direction or another, but rarely do we fully adopt the principles of one political party and cast out all conflicting political views. That's insane. Yet, Washington lives by this polarity, elected officials appearing more like Bloods and Crips rather than a working body for the people by the people.

Our representatives need to reach across party lines towards bipartisanship, not from a negotiating perspective (ie., you support my bill and I'll support yours), but from the perspective of good-will to work towards a solution, in good-faith, that will meet the needs and best interests of at least 80% of the constituents.

To get there, we need to hold our representatives accountable. Sure, we can do this through traditional routes (e.g., letters, phone calls, emails, etc.).  But modern methods (e.g., social media, online collectivism, etc.) are equally effective. Despite the method, take action to hold your local and state public elected officials accountable.  Most of us do not take the time to share our concerns with our representatives, yet complain when they take actions with which we do not agree. Why? If we did not take action and share our concerns, we lost the right to complain when decisions were made.  So is it Washington's fault its dysfunctional or ours?

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SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD
Perhaps the biggest issue we currently face as a nation is the nation itself.  Race is polarizing society.  And, frankly, this should come as no surprise.

Slavery was the principal contributor to European, American, and South American growth and prosperity.  Most historians date the start of American slavery back to 1619 where it was recorded that 20 Africans, referred to as "servants", arrived in Jamestown, VA on a Dutch ship.  When the 13th Amendment ended slavery in 1865, that represented 246 years of slavery in the United States (though the common belief is 400, this number is not accurate for the United States).  We know that American slavery originated through the European's captivity of African populations, where the indigenous people were of darker-skin tones.  This captivity established a system predicated on power and control.  Consequenlty, those in power were of white skin, and those not in power were of dark skin.  This began an institution, which lasted nearly 250 years, whose sole criteria for existence was skin color.  It would be naive to believe it would go away quickly and quietly through the passage of an amendment.  The mindset that a person of African descent's sole purpose was to be indentured in slavery to a person of European descent was considered a truth of its time.  Much like Newton's discovery of gravity as a force of nature became a truth of its time.  It was considered a fact, not a philosophy.  The mountain modern society has to climb is to change an indoctrinated belief system.  Not just behaviors.

Thus, after the 13th Amendment, the likelihood of white Americans (both North and South) identifying people of African descent as peers or equals was nearly non-existent.  This ideology would take dozens of decades to eradicate.  And the effort of dozens of generations to stop reinforcing the white-supremacy theme.  Though laws have been put in place to support equality (and some laws established to counter laws that were designed to promote inequality), unfortunately, a push by the total population to remove the supremacy narrative and embrace equality has been absent.  Therefore, the precipice of true equality has yet to be summited because, well, there just hasn't been enough time or effort.  True, though it's been 155 years since the 13th Amendment was enacted, it's only been 55 years since Jim Crow laws stopped being enforced.  This implies a 100 years in between of law change with no behavioral change.  Why? Because the supremacy belief system was still healthy and strong.

So yeah, the concept of "all men are created equal" is taking some time to take hold.  Perhaps if this mindset had the determination of COVID, we'd be able to accelerate the change.  Then again, perhaps Corona can be in inspiration after all.

It starts with each of us adopting the principles of equality.  That all men and women are created equal.  Look to embrace the concept of diversity and inclusion as a moral imperative to maximize the world's potential, not as a forced obligation of your job's new initiative.  It starts with each one of us holding ourselves accountable to this shift.  Then, we hold each other accountable.  Our friends. Our families.  Our co-workers. Everyone.  Establish the expectation of equality in your circle of influence.  This is where it begins to spread.  Much like a response to COVID, if we socially distance ourselves from holding our circle accountable, the infection of equality is slowed.  This is one area where the COVID safety responses don't apply.  Hold your circle accountable openly.  Even be brash if necessary.  If they leave your circle, ask yourself if they deserved to be there in the first place.

Lastly, we come together as a community and work to solve community problems.  This is especially important for African-American and Latino communities.  Sit down with police charged with protecting those communities and have a discussion seeking to understand each other first, then to be understood.  Police are frustrated that they put their lives on the line daily to protect the community for little appreciation or gratitude.  The community is frustrated that the police seem to target people of color for hostility.  Talk it out.  Find a common ground for understanding and learning.  And keep dialog open.  Communication has to be a way of life for the healing to begin, not a one-time event. 

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2020 was challenging for all of us.  But we have an opportunity to make 2021 better.  It'll take a change in thinking, change in behaviors, and each other.

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