Within every social and global tragedy, the light of love, compassion, goodwill and truth shines through the darkness. Acknowledging it and appreciating its appearance demonstrates that virtue lives in the hearts of many people. It gives us hope for the future and a reason to persist in right thinking and socially constructive behavior. Seeing others with the courage to do what’s right, to make the world a better place, is contagious. From this perspective, I offer a sampling of incidents from 2020 that demonstrated the best in us.
When the Coronavirus struck and people heard there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), people around the world didn’t wait for businesses to step up manufacturing masks, face shields and coverings. Many took to making masks. Among them was an 89-year-old woman who sewed hundreds of them at her dining-room table. Later on, 3M and Apple pooled their resources to produce millions of masks. Joann Fabrics gave away material and supplies to anyone who would sew masks at home.
Eight of the top 10 most successful global responses to Covid-19 came from democracies. Success appeared to rely less on being able to order people into submission, and more on having a high degree of trust and societal compliance. Bloomberg
Through global collaboration, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna researched and developed vaccines that were approved by FDA, all in record time.
Canadian scientists have cured diabetes in mice, raising hopes for a cure in humans. Frontline medical workers in every country were celebrated in many ways, from fighter-jet flyovers to people hanging out windows banging on pots and pans.
A FedEx worker disinfected a package for a girl who had an autoimmune disorder. Millions of people respected the recommendation of health experts to take precautions and not travel. Instead, many birthdays, holidays and weddings were celebrated with Zoom calls and parties.
99-year-old Captain Tom Moore raised over $42 million for Britain’s National Health Service by walking laps in his garden. Dolly Parton donated $1 million to help fund Moderna’s Covid-19 research. Their vaccine is 94.5% effective.
For much more on global health—not mentioned here—visit Future Crunch.
Stories abound of small and large acts of helping. Celebrities and talented everyday people performed free of charge on Zoom from their homes. Many celebrities and others supported family-owned restaurants and their employees by leaving beyond generous tips. A 17-year-old cashier paid $173 grocery bill for a senior shopper who was short on cash.
Worldwide, as people shuttered in place, they made the best of the situation turning to life-enriching activities such as home improvement, baking and gardening, activities that were demonstrated and shared on the internet.
In Canada, a moving company helped victims of domestic violence get resettled nationwide at no cost. A hotel in England opened its doors to homeless people, giving them odd jobs to do. In Paris and elsewhere, bookstores and restaurants were being saved by their customers. After completing a three-day medical emergency training course, Princess Sofia of Stockholm helped healthcare workers by carrying out supporting duties such as disinfecting equipment, cleaning, and working in the kitchen.
In Somerset, Massachusetts a police officer paid the grocery bill for two women who he found shoplifting. An oncologist in Arkansas forgave $650,000 worth of medical debt for his cancer patients. And in Maine, an electrician volunteering to fix an elderly woman’s light continued, enlisting the entire community, to repair her crumbling house for free. In Cincinnati, Ohio a stuffed puppy lost in the airport was returned to a family that spent days exploring the travel industry looking for their child’s precious friend.
When African-American Shawn Dromgoole was afraid to walk in his gentrified community, 75 neighbors walked with him sparking a national movement.
Many museums opened their collections to virtual viewing.
During the assault on the Capital building, quick-thinking congressional aides rescued the electoral ballot boxes before the mob entered the chamber. Otherwise, they would likely have been destroyed.
After the Capital building riot, Representative Andy Kim, Congressman from New Jersey, wearing a suit, cleaned up trash in the rotunda.
Lockdowns in major cities substantially improved air quality by lessening carbon emissions through ground and air travel.
Ocean Voyages Institute removed 103 tons of fishing nets and plastic in each trip to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and a company that sells $20 plastic bracelets pulled 12 million pounds of waste from the ocean.
In France, a fusion reactor hotter than the Sun was successfully demonstrated. It will provide unlimited clean energy without waste. The University of York designed solar panels that increase light absorption by 125%.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, just a day’s drive from New York City, life is unfolding much as it did a year ago because public health officials, not politicians, set the Covid-19 response policy and people mostly followed the rules on closures, gatherings and masks. A citizen commented, “We will make hard choices for each other, and sometimes when we do, the reward is a life we recognize.” Also, a company there turned 80% of the local plastic recyclables into lumber.
California paved state highways with a recycled plastic material that lasts three times longer than asphalt, and plastic bottles were being used to create solar-pavement panels for driveways that can power the average household.
Researchers announced that efforts to protect and restore the ozone layer have been “a thrilling success.”
Sweden closed its last coal plant two years earlier than anticipated. Austria is next.
Whales were spotted in the New York harbor. A large reef system, part of the Great Barrier Reefs in Australia, had a noticeable recovery. Belize increased its ecosystem reserve to 1,300 sq. km. to protect the coral reefs, and the Seychelles reported that one-third of its ocean waters (410,000 sq. km.) are fully protected. Future Crunch.
I selected the following information from reports in Future Crunch, a free Australian newsletter produced by “science communicators” that features stories of human progress. In whole-systems terms, they report on the “emergents,” individuals, groups and institutions advancing the leading edge of positive change.
The 2020 Global Terrorism Index reported that deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year and that the terrorism situation had improved in 103 countries — the highest number of countries to record a year-on-year improvement since the inception of the index.
Italy abolished anti-immigrant decrees installed by former populists and reinstated humanitarian protection for migrants and refugees. The government has also cut the time needed for citizenship applications from four years to three. A public statement read, “Onward towards a country with more humanity.” The Local
Mexico changed its laws to prohibit holding children in immigration detention centers, shifting responsibility to the country’s family development agency, and Colombia allowed hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants to legalize their presence in the country through work permits.
Over the past five years, Germany has opened its borders to 1.7 million people fleeing war and persecution. This is arguably the greatest humanitarian act of the 21st century. The decision has paid off. In August, the country revealed that more than half of the immigrants are employed and paying taxes. Over 80% say they feel a strong sense of belonging. Guardian
Kazakhstan joined an international protocol on the abolition of the death penalty, the 88th nation to become a signatory, which fulfills a fundamental right to life and human dignity. The country’s head of state, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, quoted Kazakh poet and philosopher Abai, stressing the need for “love, compassion, bold actions, deeds and thoughtfulness.” Astana Times
Lessons being learned through the experiences of 2020
We are all interconnected and interdependent
One person, whatever and wherever the circumstances, can trigger a global pandemic. As of January 8, 2021, the Coronavirus has killed 1.9 million people; confirmed cases amount to 88.1 million. The United States has the most fatalities and the numbers are climbing. (BBC News). Just as one person can trigger a war or undermine democracy, so one scientist can stop a disease from devestating a population. For instance Johnas Salk who developed the polio vaccine.
Beliefs carry consequences
The internet is being used to express and spread lies and conspiracy theories—anti-establishment falsehoods—that stoke the flames of fear, mistrust, polarization and hatred in millions of people. Falsehoods are compelling because they explain the complexities of life in simple and emotional terms. Left unchecked and not countered with truth in public media, the flames combine to create an eventual explosion.
Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny. — Mahatma Gandhi
Elected leaders must be of high character
The worldview of those who would lead and represent a nation matters greatly. To not cause polarization and harm, these individuals must have a positive and constructive mindset and be morally grounded rather then egocentric. To be responsible, a leader will have a track record that demonstrates a commitment to public service and qualities of character that include honesty, empathy, caring, open-mindedness, eagerness to collaborate and unify, intelligence and wisdom born of experience.
Health matters—failing that, nothing else can get done. Words matter—as Gandhi said, words beget actions and actions determine reality. Truth matters—without it, trust breaks down. And without trust, society breaks down. Consciousness matters—the more we act on purpose, the more our actions will be authentic and responsible. Black lives matter—discrimination weakens diversity, necessary for a system to be resilient and innovative. Education matters—the more we understand, the better prepared we and our children will be to make decisions that affect them and all of us. Responsible parenting matters—children who are loved, nurtured and educated grow up to be healthy, competent, contributing and fulfilled adults. Failing this, they can grow up to hate established values and norms of behavior.
Technology use has consequences
One person or a small group using the internet can hack into computers at all levels with grave consequences for individuals and social, financial and political systems.
There has been a lot of talk about 2020 being a “terrible” year. For millions of people it has been devastating. For the rest of us it has been frustrating, disheartening and depressing. Inadvertantly, the mainstream media has saturated us with news of multiple breakdowns and tragedies. In the larger picture—where these can be seen as evolutionary drivers pressuring us to correct our thinking, valuing and acting away from what doesn’t work to what does—it’s important to witness the resiliance of the human spirit, demonstrated by acts of caring, helping, learning and collaborating. In these, we see light dispersing darkness. And in these, we contribute to the light.
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Dave, thanks for your uplifting essay. We all need to have someone to shine some light in the darkness.
Your long term pal and admirer,