Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA
It has felt like climbing up a mountain, hasn’t it? 2020 has been a year of unprecedented everything, and there will be lots of videos, blogs, and news to reflect upon this past year and look to the horizon for a better 2021. New Year’s Day has long been a symbol of fresh starts and resolutions, which is a great way to approach the new year.
But let’s face it. Nothing will be all that different on a worldwide level on January 1. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, still looking for answers and witnessing or participating in all kinds of disagreement about the “best” way to handle the situation. This includes personal choices as well as government mandates. Nothing seems to be the perfect answer. So instead of re-hashing everything that has been tough about 2020, or making all kinds of glowing predictions about everything getting better when the calendar changes, I would like to reflect on the things that have been positive this year and how we can bravely move forward to bring all the best things that have come from the pandemic into the next year.
For many people, priorities have shifted. All around me I have seen such a re-focus on family and quality time with loved ones, because for much of the year we have been forced to isolate ourselves into smaller bubbles of contact. So in these bubbles many people have been able to really appreciate and enjoy that time and those people, reconnecting with an emphasis on quality of time spent together rather than trying to fit all kinds of activities into our time. For the new year, think about the times you have been able to find more enjoyment and relaxation with close loved ones, and when things start to feel more normal in the rest of the world remember the value of these times. Make it a priority to seek out those connections with family and close friends.
In our communities, we can all find countless examples of increased giving and support. In the spring, my local community had a surge of donations to food pantries, people volunteering to take food to others, and providing other types of support to families who had experienced job losses or health-related difficulties. Many towns and cities experienced a surge of support for local businesses, including people intentionally shopping at local stores and making efforts to support local restaurants by dining in or taking out food to help those businesses remain open. This spirit of giving back and providing support does not have to go away when the pandemic eases – our communities can always use support.
Large companies have also reached out to help people in need during the pandemic. Of special note is the focus on helping students to make the best of the situation. For school-age students with no internet in the home, companies across the country made internet available to families for free. In many areas, companies created free Wifi hotspots for students to use during school closures. In addition, there have been some nice efforts from everything from insurance companies reducing rates or waiving certain fees to all of these companies that have thoughtfully and often generously established ways to give back specifically to help in the wake of COVID-19. The surge of support from companies that can actually make a difference should help us see the positive side of humanity during difficult times.
In so many ways, we have seen a surge of creativity and industrious efforts to keep people connected. Between updates to Zoom, entertainment giants such as Netflix creating easy ways for people to have movie parties from different locations, and online games increasing access and ease for allowing people to spend virtual time together. We have all had to be more creative and flexible to stay connected to our loved ones, and the technology available to us has given us great opportunities to spend time together.
During this time, we have seen heroic efforts in medicine. Our health care workers across the board have been amazing, providing care under stressful conditions. Throughout this pandemic, there have been ever-changing guidelines on how to treat people who become very ill and have to stay in the hospital for lengthy periods of time. But our health care teams across the country and around the world have stepped up day after day to rise to the challenge of providing the best possible care. They are true heroes. In addition to the health care workers in the field, there have been incredible scientific efforts to learn more about this virus and to develop treatments and preventions, including the vaccines, to help bring an end to the pandemic. Scientific teams have worked around the clock to ensure medical progress that will help save lives.
In education, teachers and staff have gone to incredible lengths to provide the best possible education during this time. Parents have stepped up as partners, providing support while students are learning from home. As exhausting as this has been for both teachers and parents, the efforts have been tireless. Also, educators have tapped into creative and innovative ways to keep students engaged. Look at these North Carolina teachers who have come up with fun and engaging ways to teach online, or this one, who does different character videos for her interactive online class. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But it is also not stagnant – educators and parents are rising to the challenges and continuing to do what they can to give students the best educational experience possible under the circumstances.
I could go on and on with all the creativity and goodwill that has come out of our experience with COVID-19. But let’s take some time now to think about how we start off the new year with courage and strong hearts. One approach is to focus on our great need for things to get better, to get back to normal, to stop needing to think about masks and distancing and limiting interaction and activities. These things will be realized, probably within the next year but not within the next month. So to move forward with positivity, to be brave in the new year, take some inspiration from any of the categories listed above. In the new year, what will your resolutions be? It is always good to spend some time reflecting on personal habits and making changes for yourself, but look at all the positive changes so many people have made over the past year out of necessity. These positive changes have required courage, commitment and positivity. Let’s look back at 2020 with acknowledgement of how different and how difficult it has been, while we look to 2021 with optimism, and a renewed sense of positivity for what can be done by all of us, even under the most challenging of circumstances.