12 Lessons I Learned in 2020

“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: We will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” (Göran Persson)

Attribution: Donna CameronA year ago, so many of us were making resolutions or setting intentions for a new year, cleverly referring to our effort as our “20-20 Vision.”

And how’d that work out for us?

In my own myopic wisdom, I referred to the epidemic of incivility swirling around us and even predicted that it would become a “pandemic” as the presidential election took center-stage. I should not have used the word pandemic quite so blithely, nor assumed that the universe would ration its epidemics to one-at-a-time.

While I may still muster the enthusiasm to set a few intentions for the coming year, I prefer to use this time to look back (with 20-20 hindsight) on the lessons I learned from this year—lessons that shed light on many things we needed to see, some horrific and some truly enlightening.

The Lessons of 2020

The Culinary Determinant: When you plan your meals in advance and only shop for groceries every two weeks, you eat better and healthier. And cheaper.

The Connubial Covenant: If you’re going to be in isolation with one person, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end, it’s good to 1) have married or partnered wisely, and 2) have a sense of humor.

The Theory of Judicious Balance: Self-control and self-discipline are essential, but so is an occasional dish of mint chocolate chip ice-cream. Either without the other leads to protracted gloom.

The Good Guy Postulate: The people who are heroes will never tell you how great they are. The people who are a blight on the planet will do everything they can to convince you—and themselves—that they are important and worthy. The harder they try, the more unimportant and unworthy they reveal themselves to be.

The I’m-a-Good-Liberal Deception: If you are absolutely certain you are free of any bias or prejudice, you’re undoubtedly wrong. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or engage in conversation that challenges your assumptions. Then, allow what you read or heard to get past your defenses. 

The Omission Revelation: The more quickly we learn how to overlook small annoyances, the happier we will be. The more quickly we learn to moderate our own annoying habits, the happier our partner will be. Do not overthink this one, just do the best you can.

The Comfortable Shoe Cognition: A fuzzy slipper with a supportive sole is all one really needs 93.7 percent of the time. A good athletic shoe will suffice for everything else. High heels can be repurposed as garden ornaments.

The Rob and Laura Inevitability: Any dark day or period of despondency can be lightened by healthy doses of The Dick Van Dyke Show or either Bob Newhart series. This is a scientific fact.

The Flawed Human Disclosure: If you find it hard to admit that you’re wrong, start by admitting that.

The Who’s Winning Delusion: Unless you’re playing cards or a board game, it is unnecessary to keep score. We’re all just doing the best we can—what does it matter who emptied the dishwasher last?

The Elasticity Certainty: As crappy as 2020 has been, there are myriad reasons to enter 2021 with optimism and hope. We are resilient. We can learn to do better. We know how to encourage and support one another. We are here to listen to each other’s stories, and to eat one another’s cooking, and declare it delicious.

The Kindness Constant: Every kindness matters, even the smallest. If you’re in a place where you can’t find kindness, it’s up to you to make it.

“Be kind to yourself in the year ahead. Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand. Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin. Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them. Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.” (Neil Gaiman)

Restoring Trust, Restoring Hope….

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

attribution Donna CameronGeorge Shultz is not a man I ever expected to write about with any admiration. Or at all, for that matter.

Having served in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations—as Secretary of Labor, Treasury, and State—it’s safe to say that our political leanings are in opposite directions. Yet, I believe he is a man of honor, and a voice to be listened to as we seek to find light after this year of so much darkness. On more than one occasion in the last couple of years, Shultz has lamented the climate of distrust at home and abroad that the current administration has fostered, noting that it will take years to reverse.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, which happens to be today, December 13, he wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that is worth your attention. It’s a reminder of a time when we may not have agreed with politicians, but we could still believe that their motives were honorable and their commitment to public service genuine.

In “The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Trust Over My 100 Years,” Shultz recounts moments—some personal, some significantly political—when he saw that trust is the essential element that must be present if we humans are to accomplish great things together. As he put it, “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was—the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room—good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen.”

Perhaps that is one explanation for the world we find ourselves in today. Trust is not in the room.

Years ago, I used to teach seminars on trust, and, like, Shultz, I saw it as the quality that must come first—in a friendship, a marriage, a business, and a community. Once trust is established, you can deal with just about anything. Trust serves as the solid foundation upon which futures are built.

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey contends that the ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the number-one leadership competency. Where trust is low, you find hidden agendas, interpersonal conflict, win-lose thinking, and defensive communication—all of which impede progress.

Where trust is high, you find transparency, confidence, win-win thinking, effective communication … and progress. Doesn’t this explain a lot about our country today?

Covey further explains that for trust to be present, a leader must display both character—which he defines as integrity and good intent, and competence—which comprises both capabilities and results. Again, we can readily see how trust has been eroded.

How do we establish trust once it has been lost? That’s the question we are facing today. Fortunately, it’s not rocket science, but it will require effort. As individuals and as a nation, we must consistently model behaviors that generate trust:

  • Speaking the truth
  • Following through on our promises—both the big ones and the little ones
  • Showing respect for others
  • Admitting our mistakes and taking responsibility to fix them
  • Holding ourselves accountable and expecting others to do the same
  • Confronting reality—having the courage to tackle the tough issues head-on
  • Listening to one another with the desire to understand
  • Extending trust to others, while at the same time not being gullible

All of these take awareness and practice. But all are doable if we have the genuine desire to come together as a nation. There’s evidence that many Americans do not share that desire, but if enough of us do—and are willing to do the necessary work—perhaps a year from now we can look back with pride on the changes we made in 2021.

I’ll give George Shultz, on his 100th birthday, the last word:

“The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result? Their followers trust them back. With that bond, they can do big, hard things together, changing the world for the better.”

Hit the Reset Button

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” (Marcel Proust)

I’m not big on making New Year resolutions (What’s she talking about, Leonard? Doesn’t she know it’s nearly April?). But what I do try to do at the beginning of each year is think about who I want to be, what I hope will be different, and what I want my life to look like at the end of the year. Then, I set my monthly, weekly, and daily intentions with that vision in mind.

It’s very organized and kind of nerdy (and maybe a tiny bit OCD). It works for me.

But, here at the end of March, 2020—a month during which the world changed in ways that were unimaginable a short time agoI find it’s time to rethink my priorities and reset my intentions for the emerging brave new world (which, I hope, will not resemble the one imagined by Aldous Huxley).

I wonder, as we hunker down—giving colossal thanks to those on the front lines who cannot hunker—if it would be healthy and wise to take some time to think about who we will be and what the world may look like once the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. Continue reading

My 2020 Vision

A year from today, may we look back and say, “We’ve made the world a kinder place … together.”

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions in the traditional sense. I prefer to think about the year ahead and what I hope will be different at its end, and then set some intentions to help bring about that change. That’s how this blog was born five years ago, and ultimately how the book, A Year of Living Kindly, came into being.

This year, as I ponder the year ahead, I think about our planet, our values, and our interactions with one another. I think about the epidemic of incivility now swirling around us, and the pandemic it will likely become in the contentious months ahead.

I want to “be the change,” as Gandhi counseled. To do that, I’m recognizing that I need to step up my kindness. I need to: Continue reading

Strive for More “Oops!” in 2019

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” (Anna Quindlen)

Photo attribution: Donna Cameron

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” -Albert Einstein

The incomparable Neil Gaiman usually posts a New Year’s message as one year closes and another opens. I love those annual wishes. They are inspiring messages of hope and optimism for the year ahead. You can read many of them here. I was thinking recently about a few lines from his 2011 New Year’s edict: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes . . . . Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.” (Read the full message here.)

I think we often undervalue our mistakes. We try hard not to make them, and when we do make one, we often avoid thinking about it and perhaps even deny that we’ve erred. Do we fear others will think less of us if we are not perfect or if we admit our imperfection . . . or will we think less of ourselves?

Perfectionism is a terrible burden—and not something we should strive for. Gaiman further says, “…if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world….”

…keep on reading…