Hitting home

What word should define 2021

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 1/8/21

A colleague of mine here in these editorial pages likes to pick a word to live by at the beginning of the year. It’s a useful exercise, and, in the spirit of resetting literally everything for …

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Hitting home

What word should define 2021


A colleague of mine here in these editorial pages likes to pick a word to live by at the beginning of the year. It’s a useful exercise, and, in the spirit of resetting literally everything for 2021, I would like to propose a few words to consider.

Humility — I know, everybody who knows me just spit out their coffee. Including that one person who took the time to write me a note a few months ago. But, among the most important underpinnings of humility is the understanding that there are powers and forces that are larger than ourselves in the world that we have absolutely zero control or influence over.

Like viruses.

Think about 2020 for a moment: the world was brought to its collective knees by an entity that is roughly one four-hundredth the circumference of a human hair. Smaller than most bacteria, and so small that hundreds of them can float on a single water droplet travelling through the air. We so love to imagine ourselves masters of the universe, capable of producing munitions explosions brighter than the sun, we were all but incapacitated by one of the smallest particles on the earth.

And then we started dealing with it. First it was one set of symptoms, but then maybe not. Masks were not useful, then they became our lifeline. One treatment was good, then it was bad, then it became really good again. Even the sainted Dr. Fauci admitted last week that he was wrong about some things, and has been gradually changing his explanations to account for that.

We don’t know everything. And, I suppose, that’s a good, if brutal, reminder. The start of all wisdom is the admission of “I don’t know.” And whether you’re a scientist, a politician, a business owner, a pollster, or Joe Schmoe on the street, it’s helpful to remember that we don’t know everything. This year, let’s exercise some humility, give people grace about their own limitations, and try not to impose so much on our fellows.

Deserve — Actually, this is a word I’d like struck from the lexicon. If 2020 taught us anything, it was that the world doesn’t care what is fair or what you think you deserve — sometimes it just sticks you with reality and you have to cope with it. Buddhists might say that to feel you “deserve” something is to set up expectations, and expectations are a trap that lead towards disappointment, anger, and suffering (of course Yoda was a Buddhist). Work and industry will provide you a means to earn something; talent will dictate areas where you might feel comfortable; your choices — good and bad — will largely govern your happiness and sense of usefulness. The world does not share your sense of what you deserve, so let go of that idea and maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself a little happier.

Hope — Amid the dreck of last year, we saw not one warp-speed evolution of molecular science, but three, as three representatives of one of the most vilified industries in the world (big pharma) raced the clock and provided us with vaccines for the modern plague. That adaptability, creativity and sense of purpose should give us all hope that we can get back to normal this year. It’s not a sure thing, and we should temper our expectations for it, but there is hope. And Elie Wiesel so eloquently wrote in the midst of the greatest human plague the modern world has ever known, Hope is the one thing that the human spirit needs most to survive.

And that Hope should not be limited to COVID. I, for one, am hopeful that we will emerge a stronger, more civil, more compassionate people in 2021. But, more importantly, that we will all learn from 2020, and re-embrace the beauty and majesty of the human spirit, and begin to tackle the difficult challenges of the new world with our best selves forward.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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