What a year, huh? I think it’s fair to say the events of this year have kicked our collective butts. While most would agree that it’s been a horrible year and can’t wait for it to become “the past”, we can also look at 2020 as an opportunity to learn and grow, a way of leading us to bigger and better things. These past twelve months required us to become more resourceful, to problem solve on the fly, and to realise who and what is really important to us. We were forced to find new ways to do things, to redefine what ‘essential’ means, and consider the importance of our personal needs in the context of the needs of our broader community. While, arguably, we didn’t always get it right, it did put issues on the table and start discussions we probably didn’t even know needed to happen. If we look deeply and objectively at this past year, we can find numerous valuable lessons to be learned. Here are four that I feel we need to consider.

Connection is Crucial

Chances are there is at least someone you either couldn’t see or be with this year that you wanted to. For some (perhaps many) of you, you may have even been isolated from many people you would normally have been with. You may even have been all alone.

Even if you haven’t experienced that extreme, most people have not had the connections with others that they would normally have had, and many have suffered for that. Though some might not admit it, we are social animals, and many of the social situations that enrich us, support us, even define us were altered drastically or taken away all together. The evidence of this is starting to emerge: there are increasing reports of the adverse affects of desocialisation on children, particularly pre-teens, who have not been able to attend school, nor play activities. In healthcare, we see (anecdotally) an increase in the incidence of older persons who, without the frequency of contact with others, have deteriorated, even become injured, physically and mentally.

However, we’ve also looked at ways we can stay connected. Many people have taken up forms of technology – such as video conferencing – as a means of staying connected to others that perhaps they might not have otherwise considered. As people have embraced this media, some may have even considered new ways of connecting with people they haven’t seen or heard from in some time. For example, I was able to connect with members of my family at Christmas I haven’t seen in years through a simple app, and it was a wonderful experience we’re all committed do doing again – yet why hadn’t any of us considered doing this before?

We need connections for our health and wellbeing. None of us needs to be isolated or alone. If you are reading this, you have the means at your disposal to stay connected to the people that are important in your life. Staying connected is important. While it might not feel the same conversing with someone through a screen, it’s a lot better than being absent.

Unity Beats Individualism

While my intent was not to make this specifically a pandemic post, there is a very specific lesson that this global virus has taught us: when we are united in a cause, or an idealogy, or a belief, we all benefit far more than if we just look out for ourselves. There are many examples of this even without a pandemic, however we can use this as an ongoing example of what happens when people unite. When populations engaged in practices to limit the spread of disease, infection and death rates were significantly less. While it could be argued that some individuals chose these practices for selfish reasons, it is still the unified decision to choose to do something for the greater good that benefits all who partake in it.

What if we had the same concept of unity to address issues like racism? Or poverty? Or global relations? What if we collectively decided that everyone should be able to have access to education, or healthcare, or employment opportunities, in the same way that we decided that everyone should have access to a vaccination? What would that world look like?

This year has demonstrated that we are stronger together. That when we unite for a common goal, we all benefit from it. We can extend this far beyond the fight to survive against a virus. We can redefine humanity, and potentially achieve things we haven’t even thought of yet. “We’re in this together” needs to become our mantra going forward.

Rethink How It’s Done

Think back to last year. Would you have considered that your job could be done from home? What about visiting your doctor? Or attending school? Or even your place of worship? Maybe some did, maybe some already were, but many wouldn’t have considered it possible until we were forced to do it. While it might not have been the most desirable choice, perhaps not even the easiest choice, still, for the most part, we’ve made it work. In some cases we might have even thrived because of it. This year we discovered – or if you prefer, were pushed to discover – that there is more than one way to do things, and some of those things might just be better than the way we’ve been doing them.

That isn’t to say that it’s all been good; for the most part many of the solutions that have enabled life to continue have been derived from scrambling to find answers, and while for now they might be working, there’s no doubt room for improvement.

However, in being forced to make changes that under different circumstances we might not otherwise have made, we need to realise that the way we’ve always done things is not necessarily the best – or even easiest, most reliable, or convenient, or cost-effective or beneficial, if that’s how you think – way of doing things. This is not to say everything should change; rather, we need to open ourselves to the idea that everything can change, if there is some benefit to doing so. For example, consider how the recent adoption of online education and healthcare, even employment, opens up the possibility of bringing those services to people – those with disabilities, those in remote areas, those who otherwise cannot access the community in ways that others can – who to date have been restricted or denied these opportunities. If we can achieve it through a reaction to an unforseen event, imagine what we could do if we really put our minds to it.

If It Can Happen Once, It Can Happen Again

Who would’ve believed that something like this could happen in our lifetime? The answer is: not enough of us. The fact is we – as a global community – were unprepared for this because we didn’t believe something like this could happen. Worse, we still didn’t believe it even as it was happening (some STILL don’t believe it). As a result, many, many people won’t be celebrating the new year with us.

If we learn nothing else, we must learn that we cannot afford to be so under prepared ever again. Not just in relation to future diseases, but all things that could threaten our existence. We’re already aware of numerous things that have the potential to alter the course of our lives: the abuse of the environment, the ceaseless consumption of limited resources, the widening economic and social gap between communities, the lack of forward planning for the rewards of now. We need to be smarter. We need to think bigger and broader. We need to realise we are codependent on one another. Only this way can we prepare for the future challenges we’ll face as a species. Only this way will we avoid facing another year like the one we’ve just had. Take the lessons of this year and learn from them. We might not be so lucky next time.

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