1/3/2021: Hindsight Must Be 2020
It’s a new year. Not much has actually changed, but there is still a sense of renewal in the air. A chance at a fresh start, which is what this country needs.
2020 was a terrible year, and it brought out the worst in us. It shortened my fuse. I am more easily provoked to frustration and anger, and more often need to stop and ask myself if I really want to say what I’m thinking about saying.
That said, some of it has become necessary. I am less tolerant of bullshit because there is too much of it circulating and making things harder for those of us trying to spread knowledge. This does not include asking genuine questions about science or politics - it’s the trolling, the posts where a simple Google search disproves the premise, the clickbait headlines that mislead people. We must learn from our mistakes and post less of them. We must verify our sources.
MISTAKES WILL BE MADE
This year we watched science develop and change in real time. Every scientific breakthrough or development has included mistakes along its path. Last year, it was pretty much the only thing we had to stare at, and boy, did we scrutinize it thoroughly. We watched as the science evolved and messaging on masks changed from "save them for healthcare workers because they're most likely to be exposed" to "please wear your mask to prevent spread" and eventually as we did more research, we realized, "not only do they prevent spread, but they actually DO provide some protection to the wearer." Yes, the messaging felt like it kept changing as we learned more, which was frustrating. It fanned some serious conspiracy theory flames, too many of which have yet to be extinguished. We also went from the hope of "wear a mask and lock down for two weeks" to the drudgery of what is now going on 10 months, with more to go, as we learned just how contagious and deadly this virus really is. We watched as people fell victim to more conspiracy theories or simply grew fatigued and stopped taking precautions. People proclaimed "we can't live in fear!" and even made up agencies, spins on existing regulations, and fake conditions to justify a disregard for measures to protect others.
RACISM STILL EXISTS, BUT NOT IN THE WAY WE THINK
Last year saw an overflow of sociopolitical unrest as well. I am not going to get into the decades-long racism and injustice that spilled out into the streets in the form of protests (in this essay). I have previously addressed how those protests were hijacked by external actors that muddied the message by inciting violence and vandalism. Instead, I want to focus on those of us who must become aware of how ingrained racism and other prejudices are in this country. It's no longer the obvious calling of "N-word" or out-loud discrimination against someone for their sexuality, gender, or lifestyle. Instead, we need to educate ourselves on and forge an awareness of how systemically ingrained these prejudices are. It is the racism and prejudice that we may not even be aware of as racism or prejudice, but that feeds into the system that creates roadblocks for women, Black people and other People of Color, LGBTQ+ people...really anyone who is not a straight White man. That is not to say that straight White men do not face difficulties...but the difficulties faced are not worsened by skin color or sexual orientation or gender. The only way to learn is to listen to more voices that aren't "the default." A lesson we must take from 2020 is that we must listen to more Black, female, and LGBTQ+ voices (not Candace Owens or her ilk - the voices that OTHER Black, female, and LGBTQ+ people are propagating).
Why did I start talking about this? Because again, mistakes will be made. We who are just learning about these prejudices and trying to understand these new perspectives are going to occasionally falter - we're going to make an incorrect assumption, or say the wrong thing, or use a phrase/meme/other language inappropriately. We will get called out on it (as we should) and sometimes that will feel like an attack and we will want to double down or defend ourselves. These are the moments when we will need to examine ourselves and instead ask, "How can I do better?" We have to utilize what will become new-found hindsight.
WE DID A BIG THING (THE PANDEMIC RESPONSE) BADLY
2020 also taught us that whether we favor a Democrat or Republican approach to government, there are some things that demand an appropriate federal response and leadership. The pandemic has raged for 10 months and a major reason for that is a lack of federal response (also a lack of actual information from our president, but that is another post). We did see some dips in cases and fatality rates with precautions, but as places opened back up and people stopped taking precautions, we saw cases go up and deaths followed. Governors were praised for ignoring precautions as their states' conditions worsened. Meanwhile, the governors that tried their best to take steps without any sort of federal guidance were criticized as dictators, even as they learned from their and others' mistakes and brought their states into a better place.
What's more, we still do not have enough testing and contact tracing to accurately track these rates, meaning we're probably undercounting (STILL). More importantly now, such resources would help determine if the vaccine reduces transmission, which would mean we could open up and interact more freely once again. That means even more when you consider that death rates and case rates (because again, COVID has more harmful long-term effects than solely death) are higher now than they were at what we thought was the peak of the pandemic back in the spring. Even now, our vaccine distribution has been much slower and bumpier than planned/hoped for because states were left to their own devices without any help. We need a coordinated response, and I desperately hope President-Elect Biden puts that into place.
DISGUISING HARMFUL ACTION BEHIND LAUDING WORDS WILL BURN US OUT
Finally, 2020 taught us that institutional praise can be hollow if not backed by actions. Healthcare workers were praised as heroes even as we were accused of inflating COVID counts and being paid to fake diagnoses, all while we were stretched to our limits with staffing (creating more beds does not create more staff) and watching more of our patients die than most of us had ever seen in our careers. We watched as our fellow healthcare workers were influenced by corporations to tell people what they want to hear even as science proved otherwise. And we were told, when we begged people to take precautions, when we sacrificed our time at home and with our families, and when we watched our brethren sacrifice their lives, that we "signed up for this." No, we did not. No one ever does.
I write all this expecting that not everyone will agree. This pandemic has been ROUGH, and changing our lifestyles for the sake of public health has been more demanding than any one of us could have predicted. Still, I write this hoping to draw attention to the lessons that 2020 taught us, in the hopes that we can learn from them, and grow together despite the divided state of our nation. This pandemic doesn't care about politics or preferences (or even health risk factors). We must think of others, not just ourselves. If we are going to survive until enough people can be vaccinated to actually go back to pre-pandemic behavior (which, as I've said, is going to take us well into 2021 or even early 2022), we will need to learn those lessons. Hindsight needs to be 2020, and yes, you are absolutely correct that this entire essay stemmed from a pun.