13 Lessons from 2020

Perhaps it is too soon to count the lessons, but these themes are pretty consistent so far. I figured, given what a year it’s been, I may as well stick to the number 13 to keep aligned with the ominous nature of this year.

Here goes my 13 lessons from 2020 thus far. I expect it to only get more colourful as the final quarter of the year works its way through the digestive tract of time.

1. Everyone became an empath

Social media has been flooded with self-proclaimed empaths. The fascinating part for me is always how many of those who claim to be empaths are bitter at the world, rather than empathetic about why it is in the state that it is. More interestingly, I find it curious to see how anyone who suddenly realised that a gut feeling turned out to be true suddenly becomes an empath that can accurately read the emotional disposition of anyone that saunters across their path. My gut feeling suggests that there is something amiss in all of this. Besides, we’re all empaths by default. It simply varies by degrees of self-awareness.

2. Kal ho na ho means different things to different people

For the uninitiated into the Bollywood sphere, roughly translated, it means that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Like the empaths, this is another claim that is brandied about by the masses who proclaim to be living their best life, or doing what demands courage because tomorrow is not guaranteed. Sadly though, many embrace this concept from a position of fear, rather than hope. Thus, the non-guarantee of tomorrow leads many to hold on to the fear that they court today, because a familiar pain is more comforting than a fragile joy. Much is lost in the process of claiming today while believing that we’re not waiting for tomorrow, not realising that it is precisely the hope that tomorrow holds that should be subduing the fears of today. It’s complicated.

3. Giving it your best shot doesn’t guarantee success

The massive impact to small businesses and employment opportunities globally proves that it’s not always about your best shot. Sometimes, being amazing doesn’t guarantee an audience, or an income. When we stubbornly persist in approaching human value with a capitalistic mindset, we will continue to diminsh the value of the human contribution in the absence of its economic viability. Therefore, your best shot is only your best shot if economic viability is prioritised above your contribution to humanity. And yeah, I may be projecting my personal experiences in this regard given my line of work. It’s 2020, so I’m sure it’s allowed.

4. Pervasive ignorance still trumps collective wisdom

The toilet roll saga, followed by the poor bats who apparently spawned a synthetic patented virus, followed by the debates about the effectiveness of social distancing, mask-wearing, and so much more, all confirm that there is no collective wisdom in a severely fractured human race. Collective wisdom is only possible in the presence of a collective value system. If nothing else, given the massive negative shifts regarding economic parity, or human dignity between the wealthy and the poor, it’s pretty much confirmed that collective wisdom is class-based survival and profiteering and not wisdom at all.

5. Love doesn’t always triumph over fear

Fear, by far, still rates as the key ingredient to making important decisions. The fear of hope is echoed in the statements of hope. The victim-hood is evident in the proclamations of the victims who remain defined by their moments of oppression. And of course, we fight fear with fear by being fearful of the fear of what the rest of this year holds. In all of this, there are few who realise that they need to just be, without a need to proclaim their love or hope or fear about what life holds true for them. But to just be who they are despite the ravages of the time in which we live. If we could call it living. And, of course, those who chose to love in the face of fear will realise that their love was often only enough to sustain their own sanity, but not enough to subdue the fear in others. How may are spurned for diminishing the validity of the fear of another when they respond with love instead?

6. Hope is not always the opposite of fear

One of the greatest tragedies is when we compete in our efforts to proclaim our struggles to be greater than that of others. It’s all relative. What we proclaim as hope to rise above where we’re at is often just fear looking for validation. Proclaiming our struggles to the world rarely provides any material relief from those struggles. So when we convince ourselves that hope looks like a vocal stand against fear, we need to consider if we’re being truthful to ourselves, or are we just pacifying our conscience.

7. Collective struggles don’t always unite people

Oh boy…where to even start with this one. Bigotry in all domains has intensified rather than subsided. The in-fighting in many communities far outweigh the collective efforts to lift the burdens from the most vulnerable in those communities. And this plays out globally. Whether first or third world, rich or poor, theist or atheist, the reports of selfless human contribution have been rare and exceptional, and most certainly not the norm. Even in finding cures we’ve seen the opportunism of the elite trump over any efforts to serve with compassion before profits. All puns intended.

8. Soul mates don’t always connect

Under such straitened circumstances, the overwhelming burden of a life under duress has dulled many a romantic heart, and subdued many a giving spirit. When overwhelmed with the threat of a never-ending oppression, survival often means sacrifice of what is important in favour of what is urgent. When fear drives our decisions, finding a balance between the two is near impossible , and thus, we consider soul food a luxury when life itself feels like a threat to our sanity. Connecting with anyone, let alone your soul mate, then becomes a struggle when holding on to sanity feels like finding love is a luxury. If only we’d realise that sanity becomes irrelevant when love breathes comfort into our anguished hearts.

9. What is valued is not always what is cherished

Continuing the theme of important versus urgent, comforting each other begins to appear as a luxury or an unaffordable indulgence when we look to take care of ourselves first because we lost any reason to trust that we will be taken care of. Sometimes we do this because we believe that we need to save others from the persecution of our lives. Hence, we see what we value as being inconsequential to the existential threats that we face. Again, survival mode triumphs over our humanness, and empathy is replaced by utility.

10. Humanity still places priority over materialism compared to compassion

It’s only important if it can be monetised. Of course, this is only true in our efforts to put food on the table, but is vehemently denied in our free posts on social media. Perhaps our hypocrisy as a race of humans is most visible in our proclamation of the dearness that we place on the hearts we hope to touch or heal, but ignore such value the moment profit margins must be maintained. If lock down has taught me anything, it is that there is an absurdity in our belief that essential services are only essential if there is a way to fund it. Suddenly, we suspended our ability to produce because someone decided to suspend the economic system. Rather than question the merits of the economic system, we choose to question the value of our contribution in the absence of such economic reward.

11. Empathy is absent in religious structures and spiritual circles

The most religious and the most spiritual have shown a disdain for compassion or empathy. They have demonised non-compliance and enforced ritual instead. 2020 has revealed the true merit of the self-proclaimed custodians of religious superiority across all religions. There is not a single major world religion that has risen above the others in their efforts to place the human before the doctrine. But, wasn’t the doctrine established because of the frailty of the human to begin with? I think we speak on behalf of our gods when we need to be perceived as spiritually superior when we lack confidence in our ability to influence by our conduct. Of course, there is also that thing of funding that turns religion into business.

12. Benefit of the doubt still doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt

The irony is morbidly entertaining when we consider that we doubt those who request the benefit of the doubt. This is, again, most prominent in the economic structures that govern everything we cherish as human beings, with credit histories meaning nothing in the face of protecting profits. Financial institutions the world over have insisted on claiming interest and extending the life of contracts in a show of compassion. However, they were very careful in ensuring not to lose a cent in income, further extending the indebtedness of the vulnerable. What appears to be a short term relief only turns out to be a longer term slavery. Compassion is not compassion if it only extends the suffering rather than alleviates it.

13. Fear, and not hope, still drives most people’s life decisions

With the onslaught continuing, even those who throw caution to the wind do so because they fear being subdued for much longer. It’s our belief in our impotence to change things that we willingly surrender to it without further effort or protest. But, to save face, we must present it as a bold step against oppression or blind following, rather than to reveal the vulnerability of our fears that we harbour within. Our need to appear bold or courageous or significant immediately undermines any merits to such claims. Thus, if nothing else, 2020 is revealing the true calibre of who we are, and we have been found to be lacking in almost every sphere of our lives.

Final thoughts

Despite the morbidity and the struggles that have saturated the lives of the majority during a year of unprecedented imbalance in nature, the human spirit continues to struggle on. However, for the most part, it has intensified the nature of who we were before this pandemic hit. Those who were selfish and bitter intensified their rage and self-serving ways, while those given to servitude increased their sacrifices, often at great personal expense.

The new normal that many are waiting for will turn out to not much more than a clearer picture with more blatant evidence of the normal that always was. But, because so many were oblivious to it in their cocoons of distraction, it will be experienced as a whole new world after Covid-19. Sadly, there are much greater tragedies in the world that have been unfolding, and continue to unfold with impacts that dwarf the statistics claimed by Covid-19, and those will continue to to remain below the line of sight of the consciousness of the collective, because as we’ve seen, collective wisdom is a myth, and empathy is an indulgence of victim-hood.

There is no new normal. Only a new realisation of what was always wrong with the world as we know it. Will this result in a shift towards the resolve needed to fundamentally improve the human condition, or will profiteering and individual gain continue to contaminate our efforts in our pursuit of the peace that everyone claims to be striving for?

The cynic in me suggests that it will be business-as-usual for the next few generations. I pray that I am proven wrong.

What is it about toilet paper?

Hype aside, I thought of a few sobering thoughts that may be worth sharing. If for no other reason but comic relief…perhaps. A tragic comedy, that is…

  1. Why hasn’t anyone taken the gap to produce a disinfectant to disinfect the bottles of the disinfectant that we use to disinfect our hands? I mean, we’re touching the bottles with potentially infected hands, not so? Or are disinfectant bottles self-disinfecting?
  2. I still don’t get the toilet paper thing. But more importantly, all the reports about mad shopping sprees, at least here in South Africa, seem to be from areas of affluence. Are the rich more paranoid than the poor? Or do the poor see this as yet another onslaught that they simply have to grin and bear because they have no option?
  3. The faith-based responses are the most curious for me. Every disaster is an opportunity to proclaim the superiority of our faith. But every opportunity to serve those less fortunate than us is an excuse to encourage them to have more faith. Actually practicing our faith is somehow never as important as preaching it. Like hoarding toilet paper instead of sharing disinfectant.
  4. Conspiracies abound. However, only to demonstrate how supposedly ‘woke’ we are about the underhandedness of our governments and the New World Order. But we happily indulge in the materialism spawned by those deviant masters. Remember that toilet paper binge?
  5. Blame it on the bat-eating Chinese. Because, you know, the way to combat that is to buy toilet paper. Although there is more and more evidence accumulating pointing to this being a manufactured virus, with a carefully orchestrated response. But, I’m not woke like you guys, so I’ll stay out of the conspiracy theory space. Where’s my toilet paper?
  6. Public gatherings. Hehehe. A sad joke. Those that have a safe space discourage it, and those that don’t, look on with curiosity wondering what the fuss is all about. Curiously though, the demographic of the victims of this virus are largely those from affluent backgrounds or so-called non-shithole countries. Perhaps a decrepid lifestyle in a crowded informal settlement is healthier than the self-indulgent lifestyles of the oblivious and wealthy? Perhaps that is why they need all that toilet paper. After all this time, they’ve lost sight of the difference between their rectum and their mouths. (I kept it decent, so don’t raise your eyebrow at me).
  7. The idealists are possibly the most refreshing of the lot. Believing somehow that this mass hysteria is suddenly going to imbue us with a collective conscience so that our excessive ways that are apparently killing the planet will suddenly be transformed into Kumbaya. Ummm, remember that toilet paper run on the markets? (all puns intended)
  8. Oh, the economy. How can we forget the focus on the billionaires that are sadly no longer billionaires and have fallen from grace because their stocks crashed? Perhaps they need more toilet paper because they’re crapping themselves?
  9. But government cares, right? Just like how they care about the poverty and long-drop toilets the rest of the year. Oh, wait, poverty and long-drop toilets are fodder for campaigning among the masses that keep them in power. But this horrid virus that threatens to affect their own kind is suddenly a national disaster. Is it a national disaster? Absolutely. But not any more of a disaster than the disastrous leadership that created the overcrowded settlements and decrepit public health system that is now grossly inadequate to deal with this disaster. But the fools with hoards of toilet paper are suddenly celebrating the show of leadership in dealing so decisively with this pandemic. The only pandemic we have is gross ignorance coupled with arrogance. But I’m probably just talking crap because I have toilet paper envy, or something like that.

We lost our humanity long before Corona. And if our response and attitude towards each other during this crisis is anything to go by, we won’t re-find our humanity anytime soon either. But social media makes us feel better about our empty lives and our need to gather in meaningless social traditions that serve none other than our own need for validation about the success we have achieved within the systems created by the ones that we choose to hate, while wearing religion on our sleeves, and reminding people of the end times.

We’ve lost our way. And Corona is not about to help us find it.