4/15/2021

On being … just as well

By Ingrid Sapona

MasterClass is a website that’s been around since 2015. I first heard about it a few years ago when a friend mentioned the site. She had just taken a negotiation skills MasterClass taught by some business guru. I made a mental note of the site but didn’t take the plunge into a subscription until I noticed there was a MasterClass given by a very famous pastry chef – Dominique Ansel. So, I subscribed. After watching Ansel’s course, I watched a number of food-theme courses – including a few by chefs I was not sure I’d like. I found all of them fascinating. 

The classes are videoed “lectures” of the instructor (the Master) looking straight at the camera and monologuing about their life, their career, and their profession. The lectures are thoughtfully structured and are divided into bite-size segments so you don’t have to watch it all at once. There’s also downloadable course material that provides additional information and useful references.  

I truly love cooking and I’m always interested in learning about it, so I was especially interested in the food-themed classes. Though the chefs do demonstrate how to make different dishes, they aren’t just cooking shows. The chefs talk about so much more. They talk about what first drew them to the profession and what excites them about it. They also talk about things like the significance of farmers, food security, and cooking as an act of love.  

Because I’ve dabbled in scriptwriting and dreamed about writing a play, I decided to check out a few of the film, television, and theatre MasterClasses. To my surprise, the high-profile writers and directors also talked at length about practical business aspects of their profession. It’s clear that their success isn’t just about their artistic talents – their understanding of how the entertainment industry works is also critical.  

All the instructors are experts in their fields. But what really sets MasterClasses apart is that the instructors have managed to distill from their knowledge and experience information that’s interesting and useful. Put another way, the MasterClass instructors I’ve watched are true teachers.  

As odd as this may sound, the most important thing I took away from watching different MasterClasses was knowledge about myself. I realized I don’t have the intensity, drive, and joy toward cooking or scriptwriting that seems necessary to succeed in those fields. While that realization may sound depressing – it’s not. It’s actually a real gift. When I hear Shonda Rhimes explain the steps involved in developing a script, or talking about writing dialog, or about creating characters, a part of me thinks “I could do that.” But when she describes the collaborative process required to get a script produced, it just sounds horrible to me. So, even if I had Rhimes’ writing talent, given my personality, I don’t think I’d like working in the business.  

Similarly, while I was enthralled listening to chefs describe their creative process and how they develop dishes, I don’t feel creative in that way. As well, though I appreciate artful presentation, chefs clearly feel pride and pleasure I don’t think I’d get from it night after night. It’s not that I think I’d get bored, it’s more that I think doing that would get tedious and if that happens, I think the quality of my work would suffer.  

As I watched different MastersClass instructors, I was struck by the fact that it isn’t just talent that they have in common. They also exhibit a focus and drive to achieve in their chosen fields. And, it seems clear that they couldn’t really imagine themselves doing anything else.   

When I signed up for MasterClass, I thought it was a bit of a splurge. But, I figured taking a few classes might be a fun way to pass time during the pandemic. Well, I’m pleased to say that I got my money’s worth. I definitely learned a few things about cooking and writing. But more importantly, the classes helped me realize it’s just as well I didn’t try to become a chef or a scriptwriter – I don’t think I have the right personality for either of those careers.  

What about you? Any field you’ve felt passionate about but haven’t pursued? Any alternative career paths you wish you’d gone down?  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona


3/30/2021

On being ... very real

By Ingrid Sapona 

The term “virtual” has become one of the key watchwords of the pandemic. For example, many folks who used to go into an office or specific work location are now working “virtually” from their homes. Families and groups are having “virtual” get togethers. Indeed, this past weekend there were news stories about “virtual” Passover Seders.  

In some ways, being able to do things virtually has become a badge of resilience. It’s a sign that people are coping and becoming more accustomed to – and comfortable with – technology. For sure, it’s handy to be able to do some things virtually. But, I think doing things virtually can also amplify the disconnection people feel as a result of the pandemic. I also worry that the ability to do things virtually has numbed many to the disruption and devastation the pandemic has caused.  

The strangeness of being virtually present is on my mind this week because today at noon I’ll be “attending” a streamed funeral of a family friend who died of Covid-19. The funeral is being held in person in Virginia but it is also being streamed on-line for those of us who cannot attend in person. It’s thoughtful of the family and funeral home to employ technology to give those of us far away the opportunity to hear what his friends and family say as they celebrate his life. (Given our late friend’s remarkable zest for living, I have no doubt that much of the service will focus on that.) But, I can’t help feel that watching the funeral remotely will be a lonesome activity at a time when the fellowship of others is especially needed. Another shortcoming is that it doesn’t provide an opportunity for me to truly pay my respects to him or his family… 

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that much about the past year has been surreal. No matter how I’ve tried to fathom it, I cannot wrap my mind around the number of people who have died from the virus. But, the tragedy of the pandemic becomes very real when someone you know and care about dies from it. Indeed, that’s when you realize you have something sadly in common with many millions of people who lost one of the 2.79+ million who have died from Covid-19. We must never forget that for all those who are left behind by someone who died, the pandemic is – and always will be – very real.  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

  

3/15/2021

On being… on the brighter side?

By Ingrid Sapona

The one-year anniversary of the pandemic dominated this week’s news. There seemed to be a few themes to the stories related to the anniversary. As one would expect, the theme of devastation wrought by the pandemic was an important focus. Besides discussion of the tragic number of lives lost, there were also articles on so-called long-haulers. One story I read, for example, was about a woman who got Covid nearly 12 months ago and is still coping with unusual side effects.   

The economic impact of the pandemic was in the news too, though more because of debate around Covid relief funding than as a result of the anniversary. I still find it odd that decisions about spending on support measures end up splitting along political lines – in the US and here. I would have thought that months of news stories about people lined up at food banks, or going into work even if they have Covid symptoms because they can’t afford not to get paid, would make the need for financial support a no brainer. But instead, one year into the pandemic – and perhaps glimpsing a light at the end tunnel (thanks to vaccines) – some are more concerned about the impact such spending may have on the treasury and economy, than on the immediate needs of individuals and families.   

On the lighter side, another theme in many stories this week was discussion of things people are most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is “over”. Lots of stories about hugging family and friends, planning trips, and so on. I’m not great at answering questions like “what would you do if” – or in this case “when” – something happens. I don’t know if it’s that I’m afraid of getting my hopes dashed, or maybe I worry that talking about something might jinx it. Who knows… In any event, my mind just doesn’t go there.  

That said, I did want to reflect on the anniversary in some way. So, I decided to focus on some of the highlights of my year. It ended up being an interesting exercise. For example, I was a bit down on my birthday because all I was going to do was cook myself a nice dinner and open a nice bottle of wine. Mid-day, there was a knock on the door. A friend, who had already sent a card, brought me a lovely orchid. She usually goes south for the winter but because she was here (stuck is how she’d probably phrased it) she decided to surprise me and boy did she!  

Another highlight was a mid-summer rendezvous picnic a friend arranged. Three of us met in a park in Stratford, Ontario – a town that’s equidistant from each of us. Stratford’s a small town that hosts a famous theatre festival in the summer. The theatres were shuttered due to Covid and so the quaint town was unusually relaxing and the park was beautiful.  

Last fall brought another unexpected highlight when a friend and I went to one of my favourite restaurants, hoping to get take out. The restaurant is in a different region and we didn’t know if they were still under lockdown. As we pulled up, we saw lights on so we knew it was open, which was exciting. When we went in, we saw a couple eating at a table and sure enough, they were serving. Due to social distancing, they could seat folks at four tables. It was pretty empty, so we decided to eat there. It really is one of my favourite places and it never disappoints, but honestly – we felt like royalty being served and it was the best meal ever!  

Besides the particular days or events (lower case “e”) that stand out in my mind from this past year, there were some behaviours that I and others adopted that really helped brighten my year. Early on, I felt the need to check in with people near and far to see how they and their families are faring. Before Covid it sometimes felt decadent to drop a line just to say hello, as people are so busy. This past year, however, I found folks promptly replied and usually shared real news about what was going on in their lives – hopes, fears, blessings and, sadly, sometimes sorrows. I also love it when friends send Covid jokes – most of the times they don’t even bother writing anything – they just forward the jokes. But the simple act of them doing so tells me they’ve thought about me – and they wanted to make me smile. How lovely is that?  

Another positive this year has been finding alternative ways of engaging in activities and hobbies I enjoy. It’s kind of amazing how fast different arts and social organizations pivoted to providing webinars and holding virtual meetings. One of my favourite activities is attending wine tastings. But, to be honest, they can get expensive and there’s always the logistics of getting to them by transit, so that you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving. For the past four months some of my favorite sommeliers have been hosting free on-line events. I usually only buy one of they wines they’re talking about, but I can enjoy it from the comfort of my den. What a luxury!  

I’ve written before about how important I think it is to mark anniversaries – and so I’m glad that this sad anniversary was noted. And, though I do believe we’re all in this together – it’s very clear that each of us has experienced different highs and lows. I think it’s human nature to point to the things we’ve missed out on this past year. But, for me, focusing on the brighter side – the highlights – of the year provides more insight that can help me navigate the uncertainty that lies ahead. What about you? What have you taken away from the past year? 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 

2/28/2021

On being … unexpectedly uplifting

By Ingrid Sapona 

Over the past year or so, I’ve written columns that have hinted at my lack of hope for the world. Given this, you may think it’s natural I’d be drawn to a book with the phrase Climate Disaster in its title. Well, that’s not really what drew my attention to Bill Gates’s new book – the full title of which is: “How to Avoid Climate Disaster – The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need.” 

I borrowed the (audio) book from the library this week because I don’t know much about climate change other than that it’s real and that it’s bad. I figured maybe it’s time that I bone up on it. Another reason I decided to read it is because it was written by Bill Gates – a geek with a lot of interests. Don’t we all wish we’d have paid more attention to his 2015 warning about the devastating impact of a global pandemic! (By the way, if you haven’t seen his Vancouver TED talk on pandemics, check it out – one of the eeriest things in the video is a black and white photo of a flu virus – an image we’re all too familiar with now.)

Though I’m only three-fourths of the way through the book, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s been interesting for a variety of reasons. Gates is really good at explaining things in concrete terms. It’s not that he dumbs things down – there’s more chemistry and physics than I can ever pretend to understand. But, he uses interesting – and memorable – analogies. For example, he explains that emissions released into the atmosphere is like water filling a bathtub. Cutting back on emissions amounts to slowing the flow of water into the tub. But, even if the water is slowed to a trickle, eventually it will overflow the tub, causing disaster. Getting to zero net emissions is tantamount to pulling the plug on the tub – the only sure way to prevent water from eventually overflowing and the only sure way to prevent a climate change disaster. 

Anyway – this isn’t meant to be a book report or a discussion of climate change. What’s column-worthy to me about the book is how uplifting I’m finding it. Don’t get me wrong – Gates doesn’t sugar coat how important it is that we address climate change, or how hard it will be. And yet, he thinks we can avert disaster. Given that his optimism seems rooted in knowledge and understanding, it’s hard not to be moved by it. One of the things I found especially noteworthy is how often he talks about innovation. Wouldn’t it be cool if more people start talking about innovation? It’s so refreshing to hear someone who is smart and creative directing their energy to innovating rather than to disrupting, as so many tech whizzes seem to. It’s clear that Gates is focused on true problem solving, rather than on innovating simply to make money. 

I understand that as a nerd (as he describes himself), it’s natural for Gates to have a lot of faith in science and scientists. He clearly believes that many intractable problems can be solved if enough smart people work on them. Though I’ve never really assumed scientists have all the answers, I can’t understand science deniers. If anything, the fact that scientists have come up with vaccines to combat Covid-19 in mere months should make us all feel humbled AND should make us science believers. 

What’s also remarkable is that Gates isn’t daunted by the magnitude of the problem of climate change. From the outset he makes it clear that the goal is to go from 51 tonnes of greenhouse gasses being added to the atmosphere every year to zero tonnes. Clearly not a small goal. It’s interesting to see how his business experience informs his problem-solving approach. He breaks down problems into bite-size chunks of the puzzle and systematically applies assumptions and criteria to evaluate them, considering viability, cost, and potential impact. That said, he’s quite careful to not lose sight of the forest for the trees. After analyzing a particular chunk, he circles back to the big picture to calculate what impact each particular puzzle piece may have on the ultimate goad of getting to zero tonnes. 

Gates is uniquely situated to raise awareness about the immediacy of the climate crisis. Having spent the last 20 years on international humanitarian work, he has a unique global outlook that politicians and businesses often overlook or feel they can’t afford to have. He can also serve as a catalyst, bringing movers and shakers – scientists and investors – from around the globe together to work on the many problems we’ll need to solve to get to zero.    

If Gates is right in his analysis of climate change – the way he was about the devastating global impact of a pandemic – the consequences of not achieving net zero emissions are dire and the timeframe within which to act is short. But, Gates makes a persuasive argument that it can be done. As I said, I’ve not finished the book yet. But it’s already got me thinking more about climate change and ways I can adapt my behavior. More than anything, the book has helped me realize that we’re not powerless unless we fail to act.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

 


2/15/2021

On being … on the record

By Ingrid Sapona

As I sit here on Valentines Day 2021, I suspect I’m not alone in saying my heart is broken.

A few days ago, as I was thinking about what today’s column might be about, I had a couple different ideas. But the results of the second impeachment trial and Mitch McConnell’s pathetic attempt at saving face by putting on the record his rationale for voting not guilty made me realize that I too want to be on the record about the events of February 13, 2021.

Like House Impeachment Manager Joe Neguse, who admitted in his closing remarks that perhaps he was being naïve in hoping that the necessary 67 Senators would do the right thing, I clung to that same hope. I wanted to believe that at least 2/3 of the senators would realize that – as Lead House Impeachment Manager Jamie Raskin said – the trial wasn’t about who Trump is, it was about who Congress is. I also wanted to believe that every senator would render impartial justice because they realized, as Neguse said, that the stakes could not be any higher. Indeed, I believe nothing less than the fate of the United States of America was on the table. Given the outcome of the trial, I believe the vote on February 13th will prove to be the pivotal moment in U.S. history.

I found it insulting that Mitch McConnell had at the ready a scathing rebuke of Trump that he delivered after the trial vote. It was quite a display of hubris. Of course, few historians will disagree with his assessment of Trump’s “disgraceful dereliction of duty” on January 6th. But I think the dereliction of duty of the senators who voted to acquit Trump on February 13th will cast a shadow that will loom much larger in history.

Having grown up in the U.S. and having studied the Constitution at law school, I was in awe at the system the Founding Fathers put in place. The contingencies they anticipated and tried to mitigate with a brilliant set of checks and balances aimed at ensuring the separation of powers was truly revolutionary. In fact, it lasted for 230+ years.

But any system is only as strong as those who believe in it and who agree to abide by it. The system – the noble experiment – the Founding Fathers put in place had been pushed and pulled in different directions for over 200 years. There have been many dark episodes in U.S. history, but ultimately those in power chose the values of the Constitution over political gain. Sadly, on February 13, 2021, those in power chose to invoke the Constitution in name only, rather than to ensure it applies to all.

I know that many commentators and people who might have been disappointed with the outcome of the trial have chosen to focus on the few positives they see. They herald the seven Republican senators who broke ranks with their party leadership and found Trump guilty. They point to the fact that Trump’s attorneys seemed to have admitted that Trump lost the election. They even point to the fact that McConnell excoriated Trump after the trial as a positive. Sure – let’s take solace in all those things….

But – for the record – I believe that on February 13, 2021 the whole world heard the death knell that rang out for America democracy. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic about what will rise in its place.

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

 

1/30/2021

On being ... a needed respite

By Ingrid Sapona

Many have commented that since January 20th they feel as though a weight has been lifted off them. I’ve been feeling the same way. The silence from the Twittersphere and the change in tone of words coming out of the White House is a welcome relief. I guess this is what it feels like when bullying finally stops. Still, it’s sad to think about the damage done to our individual and collective souls over the past four years.

I think much of the world felt reassured – if not relieved – at having witnessed the peaceful transition of power in the U.S. Though such transitions are something Americans had taken for granted for over two centuries, Trump had conditioned many to expect the unthinkable. 

Given that all I really wanted was a day with no violence, I certainly didn’t expect the Inauguration to be memorable beyond seeing Biden and Harris sworn in. But, like many, I was overwhelmed by the words – and wisdom – of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. 

Over the past few years, I’ve written about my general loss of hope for the future. But seeing and hearing Gorman helped me feel that maybe there is cause for optimism. She made me think that maybe the youth of the world have the energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence necessary to change the world for the better. Maybe they aren’t as tired and weary as me… 

I’ve been pleased that others too have pointed to Ms. Gorman’s poem as a beacon of hope. Here’s a bit of commentary by three Canadian professors who wrote about the inspiring recitation: 

“Gorman moved many in a time of geopolitical uncertainty and a pandemic with the power of critical hope, something that combats hollow positivity. In the words of educator and literary theorist Ira Shor, critical hope asks us to ‘challenge the actual in the name of the possible.’.”  

So yes, over the past few weeks there have been bright spots worth savoring. But let’s not forget that there are still 7,000 National Guard troops in Washington, D.C. and CBS News reports the number will be drawn-down to 5,000 through mid-March. How sad that that many troops will be needed in the U.S. Capitol for at least six more weeks! That says a lot. And if that’s not troubling enough, the other day the Department of Homeland Security issued a threat bulletin due to the ongoing potential for violence, including concerns that Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) “may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building”. According to the bulletin, the heightened threat environment extends “across the United States”. I want to believe that Gorman is right that there is always light, but I fear danger’s is lurking in the shadows.

And of course, Covid-19 hasn’t taken a breather like the rest of us. If anything, it’s working harder to prevail. Besides the ever climbing number of infections and the staggering death toll*, mutations are preventing public health officials, pharmaceutical companies, and front-line workers from feeling any relief in the pandemic war. 

Though the feeling of being able to breathe easier and sleep better that many of us have felt since the Inauguration is definitely welcome, let’s not mistake it for more than a welcome respite. And, though I hope we can ride this wave of positivity for awhile yet, keep in mind that, by definition, respites are temporary. In the meanwhile, however, let’s use this calm to refill our wells of compassion, patience, and creativity so that we’re strong enough to meet the challenges that lie ahead. 

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 

*World-wide there have been over 2.2 million deaths to date and the U.S. the death toll has increased 100,000 in the month since I wrote: On being … too much in 2020.

1/15/2021

On being … a roller coaster of emotions

By Ingrid Sapona

Sometimes the deadline for On being… approaches and I’m idealess. Those occasions are a challenge, but they’re useful, as they force me to reflect on my intention for On being…. Then there are other times when I get an idea for the next column pretty much the day after I publish one. That’s what happened this time. So, on January 2nd I decided today’s column was going to be called: On being … in check.

The idea came to me when a friend said to me – very sincerely – “Oh, you must be SO DISAPPOINTED” when I told her that my planned kitchen reno is officially on hold. The reno’s been in the works for awhile and the plan was for it to be done in March or April. I’ve ordered appliances and was getting ready to order the cabinets but, the day after Christmas, Ontario introduced further restrictions to try to control Covid. As a result, my condo board has advised that renovations that hadn’t been started must be put off.  

While it’s frustrating not knowing how long the delay may be (timing of ordering the cupboards was going to be tricky in any event), I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. After all, it’s just a delay. There was nothing magic about March or April. Besides, other than the fact that my microwave and dishwasher are on the fritz, there’s really nothing wrong with the kitchen so waiting isn’t really even a hardship.

Then, after learning about my reno delay, Covid interfered with another plan I’ve had since this time last year. Friends and I were booked on a January 7th flight for our annual trip to Mexico. We knew from others who winter there that they feel safe thanks to mandatory mask wearing and social distancing restrictions in effect. But, given new restrictions added in Mexico and on our return, days before the flight we decided not to go. Major disappointment… But, hope springs eternal and we re-booked the condo and the flight for late spring.  

Given that 2021 feels it’s pretty much a continuation of 2020, on January 2 I decided to make a (belated) New Year’s resolution to help me cope with the inevitable disappointments that lie ahead. My resolution is to always “check in” with myself to assess whether the basis of a complaint or feeling of disappointment relates to a need or to a want. If it’s because of an unfulfilled need, I’ll give myself permission to be upset – and then I’ll try to figure out another way to fulfill it. If the complaint or disappointment relates to a want, well – what’s that expression about putting on your grownup pants?

So, in my mind, this column was done – I was going to write about being straight with myself about wants versus needs. And then came the events of January 6th. Like so many, I watched in amazement and sadness as the U. S. Capitol was overrun by a mob. I can’t say I was surprised – Trump has been rallying his supporters toward violence since his pre-election rallies in 2016. But still, the fact that the U.S. has descended into mob rule is unfathomable.

The next morning as I read newspaper reports of the events at the U.S. Capitol and the daily tragic news about the pandemic, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness. It seemed each article sent me on an emotional roller coaster with a flood of On being… topics coming fast and furious. As I’ve mentioned before, thinking in terms of On being… is one of my coping mechanisms – a way I sort out emotions. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll share some of the On being … ideas that have struck me these first few days of January:

On being … in denial – The only way the Capitol police could have been surprised by the mob that was carrying out Trump’s wishes is if they were in denial.

On being … allowed – The fact that the mainly white mob was not suppressed with any show of force is pretty clearly a sign of white privilege.

On being … a coward behind bullet proof glass – Convenient that when inciting the crowd at the rally on the 6th, Trump, Don Junior, and Rudy Giuliani were at a podium safely behind bullet proof glass. And then, after urging the mob to march to the Capitol, Trump and his pals were driven in a secret service-protected motorcade back to the White House. And of course, when Trump finally leaves Washington, he’ll be free to continue his ranting, lying, and inciting violence all the while he’s protected for life by the Secret Service. Such a hero…

On being … divisive – How dare the Republicans argue that bringing an impeachment action is divisive rather than healing! Reminiscent of the old pot and kettle adage, don’t you think? How is perpetuating a lie about a stolen election not divisive? And what have those lying Republican legislators who tried to overturn the results in various states done to try to heal the divide?

On being … a fortress – How sad to see Washington, D.C. turned into an armed fortress. While it’s understandable – in light of last week’s events and in light of the upcoming inauguration – it’s still sad. Just think of it, they’ve called in more than 20,000 National Guard troops to prevent Americans from harming Americans…

On being … too soon forgotten – My biggest fear is that in a few weeks people will lose interest. No lessons will be learned and no changes will result. How much you want to bet that by month’s end people will talk more about what Lady Gaga or JLo wore at the inauguration than about how to mend the nation?

What about you? What are you feeling these first few days of the New Year? Any On being … -type topics you’re struggling to come to grips with?

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona

12/30/2020

On being … too much in 2020

By Ingrid Sapona

Since 2011, my December 30th column has been a look back at the year based on the alphabet – you know, A is for…, B is for…, and so on. From about February on I keep a list of news stories and topics I find interesting or unusual. I enjoy the challenge of the alpha look-back because it engages me all year. By the time Christmas rolls around, I usually have only a few letters left to write about.

This year was no different and by December I had all but five letters covered. But the past couple weeks I decided to ditch my alpha review because a look back at 2020 ought to be different. Indeed, I think most would agree that a more fitting year-end review must involve reflecting on – both in sadness and in shock – some of the year’s tragic numbers.

Of course, the most devastating number is the number of people who have died from Covid-19 this year. As of 10 a.m. December 29, 2020, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there have been 1,778,266 deaths world-wide. Of that total, 335,208 deaths were in the U.S. and 15,202 have been in Canada.

I realize numbers – especially large ones – are an abstraction that can be difficult to understand or relate to. Given that, as I noted in my May 30, 2020 On being… column, I often search for comparisons as a way of providing perspective. CBS Sunday Morning offered a truly mind-blowing perspective on the U.S. death toll this week: they noted that if they did a ONE SECOND tribute for each of the Americans who have died of Covid-19 so far – it would take nearly 4 days. (To be more specific, at 86,400 seconds/day it would take – non-stop – 3.88 days for a one second tribute, which would realistically amount to just flashing a photo or quickly saying the name of each American who has died from Covid-19.)

I can’t understand why the people of a nation as rich and powerful as the United States are not enraged by the death toll. (Or at least they are not enraged enough to demand that their leaders lead.)  What does it say about a society that allows 1 in 1,000 of its citizens to die from a disease rather than come together and do all they can to protect themselves and each other?

But it wasn’t just five and six-digit numbers that I wish more Americans cared about in 2020. Another anguishing statistic relates to the number of federal executions carried out this year. Since July, the U.S. government has executed 10 federal death-row prisoners. While capital punishment proponents might point out that with 17 executed nationwide in 2020 (10 federal prisoners and 7 state prisoners), overall, 2020 saw the lowest number of executions in the U.S. since 1991.While that’s true, the fact is that until this year, there had not been a federal execution since 2003. I find it so troubling that no one seems to be asking why the sudden reinstitution of federal executions? What’s changed?

The year also saw a record-setting 30 Atlantic hurricanes. (That was the most storms since “reliable records” began being kept over 100 years ago.) To those who didn’t suffer the direct impact of any of the 12 storms that made landfall in the U.S., the significance of the storms might not be of particular import. But, failing to believe there’s a relationship to the intensity and frequency of such storms and climate change imperils the world and should be of concern to us all. And yet, there are millions who deny that climate change is real. In a recent YouGov Cambridge Globalism 2020 survey, fully 10% of Americans responding said this statement is definitely true: “The idea of man-made global warming is a hoax that was invented to deceive people”; an additional 17% of Americans polled believe the statement is “probably true”. Even more troubling is that 14% of Americans surveyed believe that climate is changing but that human activity is not responsible at all. (Of the 25 countries included in the survey, the only country with a higher percentage of respondents believing that human activity is not responsible for climate change was Indonesia, with 18% believing that.) 

Huge government expenditures – and therefore huge deficits – also mark 2020 here in Canada (and, I imagine, in other countries). Strict shutdowns, border closures, and stay at home measures brought the economy to a near halt in the spring. So, to help Canadians through the fiscal crisis, the Canadian government made available an array of support payments to help businesses and people. The daily announcements of millions and millions in aid was dizzying and of concern to many taxpayers who feared the government’s seemingly unchecked spending. By the end of November, the Canadian federal government was projecting a $381.6 billion budget deficit for 2020-2021 – up from $39.4 billion for 2019-2020. For a country of just 37.5 million people, $381+ billion is nothing to sneeze at. But, on balance, most Canadians favour temporarily shutting down the economy and offering handouts to help control the pandemic. Still, 2020’s spending will impact us for years to come.

These are just a few examples of the many disturbing numbers that marked 2020 – there are many other shocking numbers we should be concerned about. (The number of lives lost to gun violence in the U.S. has been on my year-end alpha list many, many times and it probably should be mentioned here, as should the number of blacks killed by police. But honestly, I suspect the 2020 figures related to U.S. gun violence and police killing of blacks wasn’t much out of line with what it’s been for a long while.)

My hope for the new year is that 2021 is not marked by horrifying numbers and that at this time next year, we have happier things to reflect on.

Stay well and care for each other now and throughout the New Year.

Thank you for reading On being….

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona