Posted on December 30, 2020

What have you learnt this year?


Written in 2016 and just as relevant 4 years later at the end of 2020!

With New Year’s Eve hovering in a haze of frosty fog just over the horizon, most of us can’t wait for 2016 to be done with, going down in memory as it will as the people’s Annus Horribilis, the ill-fated year which didn’t stop taking. Or Leaving. Or Trump. It’s been a year full of uncertainty, of political disarray that’s left us teetering on the brink of as yet undefined change. A destabilising year, which has made us examine our values and those of others we thought we knew.

Mourning sickness

It’s also the year many of us have become, perhaps for the first time, acutely aware of our own mortality; the year so many famous people have died that it’s left us reeling and realising that life is fleeting, and not to be trusted. With the speed at which news can be broken now on social media, and the seductive ease with which souls can be bared, the shock of one loss after another has led to extraordinary displays of collective grief. It’s understandable on some level: they’re celebrity icons that many of us have grown up with, who shaped our formative years, fuelled our romances and soothed our heartbreaks. They’ve been with us every step of the way. And now, just when the future is looking more uncertain than ever, they’ve left us to play out our own ending.

What I find harder to comprehend, is the dissociation that seems to have crept in as the death tolls have crept up. I’ve seen wagers about who is predicted to die next, lists where the deceased are referred to as objects not people, comparisons about who has left the bigger legacy, who deserves our grief more. Celebrity or not, they are still people, leaving behind bereaved families. When I said as much on Twitter, someone offered the response that they have become numb with grief. I’m not sure that’s a good enough excuse. It’s a sign of our times, where so much of our experiences are viewed through blue screen tinted spectacles, fed to us in a neatly airbrushed package wrapped up in shiny marketing paper, that we begin to blur the lines between reality and hype.

Good riddance 2016

Alongside the depersonalisation of celebrities, 2016 itself has taken on an identity of its own, and is being blamed single-handedly for all the Bad Things that have happened this year, something I’ve noticed increasingly on social media - a reluctant sense of responsibility, the inability to connect cause and effect, a passive approach to action. But that’s a topic for another blog post…

Good memories of 2016

I like to look back on a year and take stock: rerun the positives to reinforce their benefit, and see what I can take from the rest; sift through the year’s experiences to work out what I can learn from them. My annual New Year’s resolution is to keep learning, to build on the experiences from the year before. So many New Year’s resolutions are based on a negative or critical premise to begin with - I say, play to your strengths, you’re more likely to succeed! I prefer to focus on the positive not the negative, to keep looking forward not back. And there have been good things in 2016, it’s just that they’ve been overshadowed by the bigger events. Here are a few of them to cheer ourselves up with:

  • Giant pandas are no longer endangered
  • Child mortality is down across the globe
  • The number of wild tigers has risen for the first time in 100 years
  • We now have an ebola vaccine
  • The ozone layer is repairing itself
  • Malaria is down 60% worldwide
If this year’s taught us anything, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted. That’s been the refrain seeing us through its last, limping months: “life’s too short”, “seize the moment” “live life to the full” - adages which in fact, the late celebrities, unwittingly or not, lived by, more often than not living life absolutely to the full. Instead of just mourning their departure, let’s admire their achievement, their drive, their humanity. They’ve left behind their music, their words, their films, which we’ll forevermore be able to enjoy and learn from. I for one, find that immensely comforting, that our culture has been enriched by these talented, if sometimes tortured, souls. They live on, through their legacy.

What's your legacy?

That’s a lesson we can take from this year: now that we have registered the ticking clock of our own time bombs, perhaps we should be thinking about what our legacy will be. What do you want to be remembered for? If you’re focusing on making the most out of every moment, what does living life to the full mean to you? And more importantly, what will it mean to those you leave behind? It needn’t be physical, or monetary. It could be as simple (or rather, as hard!) as making sure your children are equipped to be happy, independent, well-balanced adults, to instil in them a social conscience so that they leave a lasting legacy too. If you don’t have children (and even if you do), it could be about leaving behind a sustainable environment for future generations, to make the world a better place for others. Maybe it’s just about treating people well, those small, random acts of kindness that stay in people’s hearts, making a difference to their lives in ways you may never realise.

Making the most of the new year

If I’m going to learn anything from the losses in 2016, it’s that death, albeit sad, is inevitable, and while keeping ourselves healthy can help to prolong our lives, it is also not entirely in our control. So absolutely make the most of it, and make every day count. For me, that’s about enjoying the little things, and savouring what we have, not about desperately trying to create the life you, or society, thinks you should be living and losing yourself in the process. Be gentle with yourself and others. And keep eating your greens.

That’s my new year’s resolution, what’s yours?

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