Have you heard the phrase, ‘if I had a dollar for every time…?’ Of course you have. It’s one of our culture’s most favored ways of expressing redundancy. Sometimes it's a joke,... a harmless phrase. It may be full of irony, or, more often than not, exasperation. It’s a phrase that usually garners agreement, or the ever-expressive eye roll. Yes, you know the one.
Well this year, if I had a dollar for all of the countless phrases and words used over and over again to [negatively] refer to 2020, I’d be writing to you from a much different vantage point from where I am now.
“These are unprecedented times.”
“Did that happen this year?”
“You’re on mute.”
Even the Oxford dictionary had an impossible time choosing a “Word of the Year.” For the first time in sixteen years, they had to summarize the year as a collection of words - an acknowledgement of the maniacal trends of this year. In their annual report, Oxford Languages noted, "the English language, like all of us, has had to adapt rapidly and repeatedly this year. Given the phenomenal breadth of language change and development during 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that this is a year which cannot be neatly accommodated in one single word."
Outside of learning new definitions, blends or intentions of familiar words (re: blursday, pandemic, superspreader, Zoom), 2020 has asked us to wrestle with unique challenges that no one was prepared for. People have lost jobs. They have lost loved ones, lost touch, lost count of how many meetings and happy hours and weddings and baby showers and holiday celebrations they’ve attended over Zoom instead of in-person. At times during 2020, it felt like we as a society, simply lost.
But luckily, amidst the countless losses, this year has also given us a number of words and phrases that have held a different kind of weight than they had in years before. They’ve helped us view things and people in an entirely new light (essential workers, systemic racism, inclusion). We’ve heard a new sound of hope, and compassion… or simply, recognition that the people who surround you in life are human, too, and deserving of more than passing judgment.
Despite the seemingly impersonal, virtual world we are living in, we have actually become more compassionate and understanding. We are challenging the status quo and continuing to demand change for our communities. Many are asking questions that for centuries were determined “too sensitive” or “better left alone.” We are recognizing, finally, that no one community should shoulder the burden of not being treated as equals. And we are repeating these sentiments over and over again. Until they are heard. Until they weighed and measured and rendered important.
“How can I help?”
“Black lives matter.”
2020 was supposed to be the year of perfect 20/20 vision. Of forward sight instead of hind. And while this year may have not been anywhere near perfect, it has also forced us to reflect on where we are as humans, and has cornered us into a state of almost
constant reflection (dare I say: repetition?). So while our vision may not be perfect, I’d argue that we, for the first time, just might be seeing more clearly. And for that, I’d consider this year pretty remarkable.
So while you get ready to kick 2020 to the curb, remember all of the positive that has happened over the course of this “unprecedented” time. Between the doubts and the anxiety and the loss, there have been levels of gratitude, appreciation and representation that we have never seen before as a society. Whatever dollars, nickels or dimes you have metaphorically collected during 2020, remember to pay it forward and take the lessons from this year into the next. And if you can’t quite remember all of the good, here are some great lists to help jog your memory.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Groove on the good,