Throughout 2020, I know I have learned a lot about myself, the world, how to adjust expectations and let go of plans; I got closer to finding the Truth. I wish the blessing of personal growth in 2020 upon everyone reading this.
Anyway, I thought I would leave you with my takeaways from this year and general advice going into 2021. Take it or leave it. It's totally up to you!
1. View Every Piece of Information through a Lens of Skepticism
Now, I am not an alarmist or encouraging people to be conspiracy theorists. I am merely saying we all need to question every piece of information fed to us in today's climate.
You will not find the Truth by relying on one single source or listening to what the group-think consensus is. The Truth is hidden somewhere in-between the partisan politicians, media outlets, and corporate messaging.
Remember, you can best discover the Truth within the contradictions.
The only way to combat and conquer the mind of a freethinker is by the control of information. This transcends politics. Don't kid yourself, both sides do this. If you don't want the misinformation to win, skepticism is the tool you need to add to your tool-belt. It will help you weed through all the BS and get you closer to the Truth.
And if I have learned anything this year, it is that experts are not always "experts." Remember when masks didn't work? Then they did. (In parts of Europe, the jury is still out on that.) From the most influential people on both sides, we heard phrases such as "this is just another flu." Even my abroad counselor mocked me when I raised concerns and asked if governments would put any measures in place. I was told by "the expert" at my abroad program to "continue as normal," "if you leave the UK without our approval, we will fail you," "there is no need to panic and get cleaning supplies." Again this was the "expert" in the room. From the time we are children, we're taught to follow authority and get in line with the herd. That is the lie of society. It dictates how to keep "the powerful" in power and the free thinkers' ideas in check.
Why am I telling you this long tail? Because skepticism saved me at the moment. I didn't listen to the "experts," the politicians, the administration at my school. I listened to myself, and it protected me. When the travel ban happened in Europe, I packed my belongings and headed on the first plane. I even knew abroad students that listened to the "experts" and got trapped in countries like Italy for weeks all alone.
Skepticism felt lost in 2020. I have always admired the classical liberal position: the attitude of "f*** the government, let's be skeptics of the system and let's fight for people's individual rights". Whether it was the women's suffrage movement during the turn of the century, the civil rights movement in the '60s, or the progression of gay rights in more recent times, questioning the current majority's views and rules is where we find progress for the next generation. However, I noticed this year covid moved us into a territory of being shamed for raising an eyebrow towards the powerful government officials, health experts, big pharma, wealthy corporations, and the billion-dollar monopoly tech industry. After learning in college to embrace a liberal mindset and understanding the history of liberalism, I couldn't help but wonder why my college classmates suddenly aligned their beliefs with the country's most powerful people and institutions, without questioning their motivations.
Now, just to set the record straight, I am not in any way advocating for adopting reckless behavior during a time where a new disease is amongst us. I do think if you are sick, of course, you should be staying home and being courteous to others. I believe most of us are on the side of acting in a way that is in line with human decency.
However, I am advocating for adopting a mind of skepticism in 2021. It doesn't make you a bad person to question the extremity of lockdown measures that haven't proven to be helpful. It is okay to be confused and even upset that the same government official who ordered you to stay home breaks those very same rules. It is normal to question why rich social media monopoly companies censor information for the public by telling you what is true and what is false. It is normal to be confused about why elderly people with preexisting conditions are behind 30-year-old Congress members regarding receiving the vaccine.
I am here to tell you your questions do not make you a bad person who doesn't care about protecting your fellow neighbor. Questions to the intuitions and most powerful in society are healthy. In fact, they are the basis of liberalism and the foundation of freedom. So I ask you, please, in 2021, to be reminded of what it means to be free, what true liberalism calls for, and to question what the current counter-culture is really countering.
2. Exist in the Grey Area
Now the grey area does not be mean to be unethical or never take a stance. It actually means quite the opposite. The point of the grey area is to be a place for your mind to sit and process a problem when it is too complex, and the solution is not immediately apparent.
The grey area is such a powerful tool to have when processing conflict because it prevents you from taking a quick stance on an issue before thinking through all the variables. Right now, our world wants us to refuse to exist in grey and instead accept dichotomous thinking, which simplifies life to thinking in very black and white terms (purely good v. purely evil) without considering the nuances of the problem.
Once we accept this dichotomous thinking, we become unable to see perspectives from opposing viewpoints, and we lose our hope of finding common humanity with our brothers and sisters. Losing a sense of shared humanity is dangerous. People will continue to gravitate to further extremes if we think of complex issues such as solving climate change or overcoming the pandemic in oversimplified terms, such as having the mindset "the only way to overcome covid is with a year-long national lockdown," or "living life in continued denial of the reality of the situation."
I saw both of these positions play out this year. In late February/early March, I started to realize covid would be a real thing that affected our daily lives. It was then when I remember telling my friends in London that we needed to stock up on soap and dry food, we probably shouldn't go to Ireland, and you should probably wear a mask. Everyone thought I was nuts for sure. Everyone told me, "all this food and cleaning supplies are unnecessary," "masks don't work," the list goes on. Sure enough, within a week, we were sent home, and suddenly a month later, masks became mandated. What's ironic is the some of the same people who thought my precautions were lunacy now are convinced full lockdowns are the answer for ending Covid. Right there, I am proving to you how easy it is for us as humans to switch from one extreme to the next and forget to critically think through the problem to come to our own conclusions based on facts and reason. Look, I get it, subscribing to an already written out mindset and not straying from it is more comfortable. Plus, you get an automatic team when you do that (just look at how our two-party political system operates here in America). However, this kind of thinking harms you in the long run because it leaves your blind spots open and creates holes in your reasoning.
We must normalize, sitting in the Grey Area with a topic such as covid. We can have the self-control not to go out if we are feeling sick and take necessary precautions. Without normalizing full lockdowns, that have proven to be non-effective and have other unattended consequences. (i.e., increased suicide, depression, overdoses).
Remember, control is the counter to freedom. People who seek more power, more money, and more resources do so by obtaining more control of everyday people. And an effective way to gain control is to convince us (the people) that the state, large corporations, etc., can make better decisions for us than ourselves. They work to convince us that the key to bettering our health, economic well-being, and eventually our happiness is by placing our life in their control. But we have to remember the truths of liberalism and know we hold the keys to our future. And if we stray from anything further, it will lead on a dark road towards control by a select few.
3. The Truth is your Compass
This might seem like a basic rule since, from the time we were little, we heard sayings like, "the truth will set you free," and our parents taught us about the dangers of lying. This year I've realized that even if you tell the Truth in your personal life, the world still contains many confusing hidden lies. In particular, 2020 was a year of many lies disguised as the Truth.
Throughout 2020, I had many friends come to me with their skepticism of the unified voice behind every cultural and political issue, especially those issues voiced on social media. Friends would ask me my advice on finding truthful information sources since the most easily accessible information these days has a clear agenda. I responded by explaining I look for trusted individual journalists of varying opinions instead of subscribing to one or two large news organizations (it helps even more if you can find independently funded journalists). By doing that, hopefully, in between all the varying personal takes, you start growing your own understanding of the presented facts, as opposed to blindly subscribing to a particular dogma (and never straying).
In his famous quote, Steve Jobs warned against dogma, "Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
With growing, censorship on social media, we are moving closer to a global information war. But do not fear. Continue to listen, reflect, and let your inner voice lead to down a path of Truth in 2021 and the years to come.
4. Take Risks - The World is Telling you to Live in Fear
2020 turned into a year of fear for many. When fear overcomes you, it is genuinely paralyzing. Trust me, I felt paralyzed time and time again this year. I believe those seeking power's goal is to paralyze everyday people from creating and progressing forward in life.
By June of 2020, I decided I had had enough, and I no longer wanted to live in fear of this virus. Now again, as I stated earlier, this does not mean I became careless. I still have continued to prioritize my health and those around me. However, I decided I was no longer going to be a passive being that just went about my day refreshing Twitter and watching Netflix day in and day out, waiting for the world to become "normal" again. I decided to put my energies into a summer job and, more importantly, growing my podcast, Highly Inspired. I put myself on a consistent schedule of researching, creating content, developed a website, and expanded to Youtube. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I've seen so many people in the creative world, deciding to be fearless during this time and grow their platform. Two great examples are the comedians Tim Dillion and Andrew Schultz. They both chose to see covid as an opportunity to develop their presence online, give the middle finger to PC and cancel culture, and grow their comedy careers. Andrew Schultz even signed a deal with Netflix for a comedy show called "Schultz Saves America" (I recommend checking it out).
Anyway, back to my point, I have heard close friends of mine say that once covid is over, I will start this company or continue working on my music or go on this date. But what I keep saying is, "No! The time is now to do those things because we have no idea when and if things will get back to normal." I live in the great state of California, which I have loved up until this point where we are still in full lockdown, almost a year later, with no light at the end of the tunnel, as our governor says we might not reopen even with this vaccine. So as free people moving through the world, we cannot wait to create and add value to this beautiful world we inhabit.
The world needs our positive energy and beautiful contributions now.
5. Remember the Old World & Don't Settle for Anything Short of Returning to it
My final piece of insight from 2020 to 2021 is the need for us to remember the old world and not settling for anything short of returning to it.
I urge you not to forget what the world was like before March of 2020. Close your eyes and take a movement to remember all the choices and freedoms you had at your fingertips. You could go to a concert, a bar, a crowded house party. You could travel internationally, visit historical land sites, see new places in nature. Even smaller things like going to a restaurant with a close group of friends or greeting your friends with a hug have slipped away.
I have been in my hometown of Phoenix over the holiday. And it is relatively open here compared to my current home in California. I went to a restaurant with friends, filled with people and a DJ playing loud house music. Even though the servers were wearing masks and my party was at our own table, at that moment, I felt like I was at a fun club pre-covid, and a little bit of normalcy returned. I urge you to look back at photos, videos of life before March 2020 and make sure you remember that world and how beautiful it was. 2021 needs to be about returning to normalcy, even in the little ways. The lockdowns during 2020 pushed Amazon's profits to an all-time high while thousands of mom and pop businesses went under and progressed Big Tech's growth into a large surveillance state and censorship force behind shutting down all forms of honest debate. We cannot be naive to think the powerful institutions (who have benefited from covid) will be willing to give us back our pre-covid world. Instead, we must work within our power to remember the good times and ensure we return to them.