Cast your mind back to the year 2019. I know it seems like a lifetime ago. What were the big news stories of the year? Can you even remember? No need, Google does!

At the international level, Notre Dame burned, Hong Kong was erupting with protests and concerns about the Chinese government, and the UK Brexit saga continued. The big issues at the top of our minds in the US last year are probably also hard to recall. The impeachment of the President dominated the news cycle, back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio set Americans on edge, a surge of immigration at the US-Mexico border threw the country into heated debate, and we had the longest government shut-down in our history.

What about at an individual level? What did you care about this time last year? Certainly, there wasn’t a pandemic to worry about. The Black Lives Matter movement existed, but massive protests were not a fact of life and the social unrest was not anywhere near the level that we’ve seen in 2020. The economy was humming along nicely. You could take a vacation, visit grandma, go out to eat, and watch sports without a second thought.

I promise, this exercise is not intended to bring you down, though I admit, it’s making me a bit wistful for 2019 normalcy. However, it does have a point. Even without a pandemic to turn everything on its head, the issues we care about change and shift. We rarely stop and reflect on those shifts and why they are important.

What matters to us, what we decide to pour our time and energy into, and what keeps us up at night, shifts depending on our context. Police reform and racial injustices were not issues that popped up overnight. These issues slowly simmered, boiled over into the national consciousness, and demanded a response. Our government’s degree of preparedness to an unexpected pandemic mattered little to our lives in 2019, and by 2020 it was one of the only things that mattered.

The issues that rise to the level of “doing something” are enduring, but our ability to make change and to pay attention to those issues changes based on our context. Our awareness to the details of a problem, the mass mobilization of individuals paying attention to it, the urgency of the consequences of ignoring the problem, and our own personal experience all feed into when we are inclined to act.

The bad news is that there will always be more injustices and more problems to be solved. The good news is that we are remarkably adaptive creatures, who are constantly evolving and improving in response to the world around us. If we focus on the problems in front of us, where we have the power to do something right now, we may just overcome them.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash


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