By: Raji Uppuluri

As a year draws to a close, we spend time reflecting and putting some thought into how we can better ourselves in the following year, the standard New Year Resolutions!! For everyone, most years are a mixed bag, we have some painful experiences that we had to overcome – a health crisis, death in the family, job loss, divorce, or finances. But along with the unpleasantness there are also happy moments, like time spent with family and friends, weddings, milestone celebrations, vacations – beautiful, precious moments that we lock away in our treasure trove of good memories. However, 2020 was an ‘unprecedented’ year (Oxford word to describe 2020) as the calamity it dumped on us was staggering. Covid 19 Pandemic affected the whole world, no one was spared but for Americans, the struggles were further compounded by two other monumental events, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Presidential Election. These three dramatic events made 2020 by far the most tragic and challenging year in recent history.

Reflecting on this year, how do we describe 2020?  Twitter asked people to describe 2020 in one word and the responses were varied – Ctrl + Z, Pain, Delete, 404, Why, Zoom, Ouch, Skip, Hellacious, and some felt it could not be described in one word. Every year Oxford comes up with a word of the year and they too fell short in capturing the essence of 2020 in one word. Instead, they came up with a report ‘Words of an Unprecedented Year’, capturing new words that were introduced into our vocabulary this year. Each of us can give it our own name or phrase, it is not of much importance how we label it, what matters is how we process and deal with the impacts it had on us, what we learned from it, and how we move forward. These three major events have changed our perspective on life, how we perceive others and what we ultimately value most in life. We need to take those valuable lessons and apply it to our tomorrow so we can leave a brighter legacy for the next generation and progress with strength over sorrow.

Covid 19 created physical distancing among people, a new rule of maintaining 6 feet distance from anyone who is not part of our household became a mandate. In theory, it seemed simple enough, but it was the hardest thing to follow because we all missed and craved the Human Touch, such as a squeeze of the hand from someone to show that they care, a hug from a loved one, a pat on the back or an arm around one’s shoulder – simple gestures and acts of love and affection that speak volumes and give us comfort, were suddenly a taboo. The last decade has been all about abundance, obsession with technology and social media, to the point that relationships and personal communication took a back seat. However, the Pandemic changed all that. Lockdown forced families to spend time together and people made efforts to connect with extended family and friends dispersed across the world via video chats. The Pandemic reinstated certain family values that had lost its significance, we learned the true meaning of human bond and how delicately it ties us together.

In the midst of the crazy Pandemic that was playing out in full swing, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement broke out. This was a movement that took shape initially in 2013 but had been in the back burner until it gained momentum again in June this year after the killing of George Floyd. The horrific scene displayed on every TV screen was hard to stomach, the injustice and the inhuman act too much to bear. The BLM movement got lot of support from many white Americans and other ethnic groups. However, according to a news article from The Dallas Morning News, surveys done by Pew Research Center shows that the support has gone down since June. The study also points out this is very much a partisan story, something seen frequently in gender and other social and political issues.

It is not surprising that the support for the BLM has lost some of its momentum. After all this was the biggest movement in American history (estimated 16-26 M people participitated in the protests – Wikipedia) and people wanted to be part of that historic moment and hence came out with gusto to support it. But it takes much more for change to sustain and become permanent, it doesn’t happen overnight. Systemic discrimination based on race, color, religion, disability, gender, or sexual orientation are part of our ideologies, beliefs, and mind sets that are ingrained deep in our psyche and it takes years to bring transformation. It is a war best waged through education and awareness. Education is the key as it awakens our consciousness, and once we start enforcing positive behaviors, a shift occurs in our thinking and beliefs. This shift has occurred in a good part of the population based on the turn out we saw in June and social media also played an effective role in bringing awareness. In fact, it helped galvanize similar movements across the world. Corporate America has taken a strong stance too and are training their employees in Diversity and Inclusion, and Unconscious Bias. But this is just the beginning of a long journey, the BLM movement has given us hope but the fight for justice, equality and respect has to go on.

The third dramatic event was the Presidential Election that has left the country in a state of deep controversy as this was especially bitter and contentious. Just like it is difficult to summarize 2020 in one word, similarly it is extremely tricky to formulate one reason or fact that led to the debacle. Of course, the left would willingly put the entire blame on one person, but that is giving too much power to one individual. The foundation had already been laid – the politics, the division, the parting in ideologies had already taken root in the last decade or so. What the country needed most in the last few years was someone to bridge that rift, not widen it. Someone to bring unity, not division and someone to show empathy when families were suffering. Instead, the president made “divide and rule” his mantra and used it to gain power and push his agenda. In the Tumblr article “Trump’s Divide-and-Conquer-Strategy”, Robert Reich (Chancellor’s Professor at UC Berkley) writes that most Americans are not passionate conservatives or liberals, but Trump has cleaved America into two warring camps and forced us to take sides, and each having contempt for the other.

Was the outcome of the election fair? Probably not in the eyes of the party that lost. This group is struggling to accept the result, but one should keep in mind that a democratic process was followed, and people of this country made their choice. There were recounts of the votes in the states the results were disputed, and measures taken by courts and government to verify the votes, so legally speaking the election was won fair and square. And on a philosophical note, if we believe in higher power or that things happen for a reason, then perhaps this outcome is even more justified because it will tone down the divisive language and simmer the flames burning in the hearts of so many. Beliefs, ideologies, faith and values are part of who we are, there is no right or wrong. Both political parties have the right to their views and opinions but where we failed as a country was in our inability to respect one another, respect our differences. To a large extent, we can blame the highest office for not being a President for the entire population, and not being a Leader, the country needed and deserved. But on the other hand, each one of us have a share in this big catastrophe, we too are responsible for contributing to the divisiveness by our lack of sensitivity and effort to understand the other side.

Although these three dramatic events have left so many of us distraught and emotionally scarred, we can still look forward to tomorrow with a new hope. The release of the vaccine is a sign of the end of the horrible Pandemic. The BLM movement is a new dawn for a better tomorrow where people respect one another and accept each other, irrespective of their religion, race, color or sex. And lastly, a country that is so divided can finally focus on healing and bridging the rift because the alternate is a lose-lose proposition for all. Even in corporations, projects succeed through collaboration and teamwork, and we fail miserably when we work in silos. We are stronger as a family unit, as a community, and as a country when we stand united.

In the spirit of Hope, Equality, Unity and Peace, I leave you with the song ‘Jerusalema’, a South African song in Zulu that went viral beginning of the year after we were hit by Covid. It was a song-dance challenge that resonated with millions across the world, with different people giving a diverse meaning to the song to suit their disposition.

In his article, “Jerusalema – The Dance, The Meaning, The Theology”, Nikosi Mlambo explains the meaning of the original hymn that celebrates the longing for the Promised Land, the New Jerusalem where there is no pain or sin. The adapted new version is a symbol and desire for unity and peace. May this video uplift you, guide you and give you the courage to find your Jerusalema, wherever and whatever that may be.