2020 has definately been a year when I saw things with more clarity and sharpness. The unconscious trance, or denial I had been living with lifted a little. I am sure there is always more to lift.
Pre 2020 I knew about climate change and had been following Greta call out the climate emergency, but it was only when the cars stopped and the air smelt cleaner and I could hear the birds sing that I felt the difference during lockdown.
Pre 2020 I didn’t think there was anything I could do apart from re-cycling to live more sustainably, but then I thought and read and listened and saw that actually all of the main societal changes (women’s rights, gay rights, black rights) have come about because of individuals standing together and saying ‘NO’. I began to understand that if I change my habits about how I use my money, my car, my time, I am doing something, and if all of us do something, that adds up. One woman sitting in the ‘wrong’ seat on a bus might have seemed small, but when other people join in, look what can happen.
Pre 2020 I was pretty aware of my consumerism; I’ve been a second hand clothes buyer for a long time and rarely buy ‘stuff’. As we all had our birthdays this year, everyone of us, including the boys, said we didn’t want anything because we had everything we needed. And we do.
Pre 2020 I knew that the world was an unfair place. I see enough in schools to know that there are some kids who get a really hard start in life, who rely on food banks and who rarely see parents who are working in exploitative, zero-hour contracts and still can’t make ends meet. ‘We had to decide on food or presents’ at Christmas, one child told me. So I knew, I knew that society wasn’t looking after everyone equally. But boy hasn’t 2020 really made that even clearer?
Pre 2020 I didn’t think the world could change overnight. Then it did. All the things that governments have said they couldn’t change to support the environment, just stopped; planes, schools, shops, cars…just stopped. Just like that. Oh, so massive change IS possible…it’s just that they didn’t want to do that for the climate.
Pre 2020 I knew that we are part of the natural world, but the more I’ve read, the more I understand that we are destroying the very resources we, our children, our grandchildren, need to live.
Pre 2020 I was much more trusting of those in power than I am now.
Pre 2020 I was making a difference to individuals with my coaching and my teaching and I love the cards and emails I get to appreciate what I can give. But now I want to give more, give more widely, stop the rot further upstream. So much of what I deal with is anxiety and stress related and it is easy to say ‘that person is stressed’ when really the truth is, the environment they are in is stressful. The survey I sent out during lockdown showed that for many people lockdown was finally a chance to stop and rest. Now I hear the story that so and so ‘is anxious’ about covid, as if there is something wrong with the individual rather than the way the human setting and culture is dealing with the crisis.
Pre 2020 I was happy to squeeze in my time outside around work, to squeeze in reading to the slim spots of time I had before I fell asleep. But reading is how I learn, how things change, how we inform ourselves and we were born to be in nature not strip lighting and cars.
Once I had experienced and read and learned and thought I could not un-see it all and so things have had to change, to not change would have been to swim against a tide which feels too strong for me.
Denial is a defence mechanism which protects us from what we can not bear to see and it serves it’s purpose. It helps us survive trauma, bullying, abuse, neglect, unhappiness, ill-health because we act as if all is well. Some people stay in denial for years, for a life-time, but most of us don’t. Most of us face up to the truth once we are either forced to by circumstances or when we feel safe enough.
Often it is in the coaching relationship where people disclose the things that they have been most wary of sharing and the healing starts with having it heard, having it seen, having it witnessed. Often as a coach there is nothing I can do to make the pain go away, apart from acknowledge it and sit together with it.
As the initial pain passes, we start to re-write the story, re-claim the narrative. Women I interviewed for my book on domestic abuse spoke about the relief there was in telling their story. When we re-tell the story we can re-shape it, give it meaning, claim it and so regain our power in relationship to it.
Denial leaves us powerless and shielded, but the shield can stunt our growth and shut us in and nothing changes. When we face the truth we can start to write a story that is more hopeful.
‘Active Hope’ is a phrase coined by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone:
‘Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire. Active Hope is about becoming participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active Hope is a practice…it involves three steps. First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction. Since Active Hope doesn’t require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless ‘ (p3).
Step one – a clear view of reality. 2020 vision. What can you see that you couldn’t see before? That maybe you don’t want to see? What is the elephant in the room that you are squeezing past?
If you have time and resources to read this far, you, like me are one of the lucky ones and we have to see how our good fortune in having the time, education and technology comes with a responsiblity to act for the good of all; for those who can not read, or don’t have time or don’t have money, or are alienated and marginalised, scared and hungry, human, animal, plant, water, air, seed.
Let 2020 be the year of clear sightedness. Let us see the dysfunction, the racism, the poverty, the inequality, the unsustainability, the stress, the rush, the lies, the obfuscation. Let us see it all clearly.
Because then we can move into step two, re-imagining a world that we would like our grandchildren’s children to inherit from us.