2020 – a tumultuous year

This has not been a normal year by any means. In fact, the abnormal has become the normal. Masks and lockdowns have become a part of life in many places. Entertainment and recreational venues have been nearly strangled to death, and tens of millions of Americans voted by mail this year.

It feels like the years of globalization and economic prosperity in many parts of the world have begun to defer to more nationalistic, protectionist sentiment by countries whose unwritten motto is self-preservation and self-care that turns inward to its own people and neglects relations with those beyond its borders.

And frankly, with this tenacious virus, they cannot be blamed. After all, no one wants this virus to spread rampantly in their own backyard. And if that requires closing down the country to outside visitors and limiting its own people’s movements, then so be it. At least the virus can be contained.

But this virus has no respect for borders. It doesn’t seem to care about having the proper visa or stamp before traveling to another place. In fact, it shows an absolute disregard for any such conventions. It goes wherever it desires and seems to excel at survival.

It is incredible how such a small thing has brought the world to its knees. Who would have thought that this could happen today in our modern world? Will a vaccine really be an effective solution? Is this just the beginning of more pandemics to come? Will some other natural or man-made disaster take the spotlight next year? Can there be a return back to normality?

There are too many questions left unanswered, and there is too little we know, which is ironic. We live in the Information Age. If I “google” something or “baidu” it (Chinese version of Google), I can find an answer to my question within seconds. Of course, finding an answer to the recipe for tikki masala is much less complicated than understanding the inner workings of a microprocessor. But you’d think we’d be more knowledgeable these days and more informed.

Honestly, the deluge of readily accessible information is overwhelming in its scope. There is no possible way to grasp all of it. And there seems to be no end to this barrage of facts. There seems to be so many specializations and niche areas of expertise in the workforce. There may be great depth of knowledge, but where is its breadth? Have we pigeon-holed ourselves into our own fields of expertise and lost our ability to connect to others?

In this technocratic world we live in, we have entered a dizzying world where truth and lies seem indistinguishable and fact and opinion are irrelevant. Fake news is the catchword of the day. Some journalists promote their own agenda, and others strive to present the truth. But how do we know whose voice to trust? Is it even possible to present an unbiased, factual version of a story?

I certainly can’t expect the world to be like it was when I grew up. But I didn’t expect some things to change so fast. Perhaps the coronavirus has just accelerated certain realities. The relatively open and liberal world that existed during my childhood seems to be in regression. Authoritarianism and nationalism seems to be on the rise. Many democratic countries have become more contentious and partisan than ever before, both within their own government and among their own people. How can we be a positive influence in this world when there is such infighting and moral grandstanding?

But perhaps my childhood was too protected from the true reality of this world. There will never be peace on earth, as much as we may desire that. There may be brief glimpses of light where there is compassion and selfless love shown to others. But more often than not, pride and selfishness will rule the day. And some countries will go to war over petty grievances, and people will riot in the streets at perceived injustice.

This past week was the American presidential election. It has been one of the most contentious ones I can remember since Bush vs. Gore in 2000. And I fear the legal actions taken by both parties will lead to no conclusive result and just engender more bitterness and hatred by the losing side. And frankly, I don’t see our current president graciously conceding defeat, if that is where the final electoral count goes.

I fear for the future of America. I do love America still, but it is not the America I grew up with. Living in China has altered my view of this world (for the better, I believe), and I respect the people here. They have helped me lose some of my former Americo-centric thoughts, which was a healthy change.

In fact, I have a Chinese girlfriend now. And she and many other Chinese friends have helped me better understand other people’s culture and their way of life. It is still hard at times to step outside one’s own culture into another, but it is eye-opening to truly understand a different perspective on life and realize it’s not wrong, just different than how I grew up.

It seems like the newspapers focus just on nationalist conflict between countries like America and China. But people seem to forget there are real people living here with real struggles and pressures in life. They are not all part of a monolithic, authoritarian regime that is rapidly expanding its clout overseas. But if we depersonalize a people, then it is easier to denigrate them and belittle them, because they have lost their identity and their true personhood. They are just part of a large mass of people who are somewhere out there across the ocean.

Why was it acceptable to call the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” or “Kung flu?” Couldn’t we have just called it Covid-19 or the Wuhan virus (the city where the virus first appeared)? Did we have to associate a whole people group spread throughout the world with this virus? Did we really have to call them out like this? Has it improved people’s feelings and regard of Asians in foreign countries? Was it just a little joke to create a cutesy title like “Kung flu” and nothing more? Is it just an innocent catchy phrase? Should people just get over it and not be so sensitive? Do words really matter that much? Is that childish “sticks and stones” poem actually true?

It seems I am left with more questions than answers as this year comes to an end. But perhaps that’s how it should be. After all, there is much in life I will never truly understand, and I accept that.

This has been a tumultuous year filled with uncertainty and fear. And sadly, it may not be over yet. But at least I can trust in a God who holds time in his hands and created the world through his own spoken word. He allows nations to rise and fall, and he knows all things – past, present, and future. Perhaps I should leave my questions with him and be content to accept the life that I have on this earth with the time that I have been given. That should be enough for me.

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