Let’s learn from 2020

Letter to the Editor

Aziz Radwan

2020 has been unlike any other year in our lives. We have witnessed so many unexpected incidents, especially, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. According to government health ministries, there have been over 107 million cases and about 2.3 million deaths worldwide since the pandemic began. The global, rapid spread of the virus has resulted in the shutdown of financial markets, businesses and corporate offices. Millions of people have become unemployed, struggling, thereafter, to survive. Additionally, many celebrities, sport legends and government officials have passed away this year. Despite this gloomy picture, I would like to review some of the lessons learned in 2020. 

For the first time in decades, people from all over the world came together and, in a matter of weeks, united in order to fight their common enemy: the coronavirus. Conversely, climate change, which began as an increasing concern in the mid-20th century, took decades to be taken seriously, and is still belittled by many politicians; nevertheless, the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015 are steps in the right direction. One might wonder why world leaders didn’t act more quickly on climate change, despite knowing that climate change has physical risks of exacerbated floods and hurricanes that can destroy towns and affect production crops. Why haven’t developed countries invested more in renewable energy to limit greenhouse gases pollution? The discrepancy between responses for COVID-19 versus climate change lies in the economic impact. When the pandemic took effect in March 2020, it resulted in a national lockdown associated with quarantine, business closures and unemployment. This has precipitated a quick, sudden and severe economic downturn. Hence, world leaders had no option but to act quickly to tackle this unprecedented public health crisis, which also happened to be an economic crisis. 

The second lesson we can learn from 2020 is that we must admit that the real heroes were neither the politicians, celebrities, sportspeople nor journalists. To me, the real heroes are the frontline health workers and truck drivers. What would 2020 have been without these two societal groups? Health workers have risked their own lives helping and saving COVID-19 patients—some of whom did so voluntarily without getting paid. Truck drivers, on the other hand, drove long hours, gave up their family time and social life in order to deliver food, medicine and supplies to people who had to stay home. They indeed have made our lives easier. Despite this, the sad reality is that both health workers and truck drivers still get very little recognition. 

Third, we can stay at home. We can work from home. We can work out at home. We can also do school at home. The internet has never been more essential. Our lives would have been entirely put on hold if we hadn’t had access to online/virtual meetings. Now, working from home is becoming popular. For example, Facebook decided last May to let their employees work permanently from home, which was of course a business decision. They probably have realized they can save thousands of dollars by abandoning office spaces. 

Fourth, we all have friends. What is a friend? Writer Elbert Hubbard defines a friend as “someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” We don’t get to choose our siblings, but we can definitely choose our friends. Here comes a question: How can you distinguish real friends from fake ones? Will the 2020 circumstances help you tell the difference? Well, putting it simply: friends who called you, cared about you, offered help or showed up when you needed them in 2020 are, truly, your real friends. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Fifth, and lastly, we should never take anything for granted. We should recognize societal groups who make a difference in our lives, appreciate our continued access to the internet and identify our real friends. For those of us blessed with clean water, a job, a bed and a fixed income, 2020 has reminded us that our basic needs may not be sustained at all times. As long as we have every basic need every day, we should appreciate what we have and stop complaining about what we don’t have.