A year comes to a close. Some say, it was a good year. Some say, it was a bad year. Some say it was just another year, neither good nor bad. In this ambiguity of how people see it, at least, this year is no different from all other things that surround us: Owls that are nightingales, nightingales that are larks, larks that are dead serious, serious deaths that are fake news, fake news that are wiser and truer than owls. Which reminds me that one of the nicer music discoveries I made this year were the beautifully heartbreaking songs of Tobias the Owl.
Anyways – in my personal reckoning, 2016 was mostly a year of reminders. Firstly and mostly, the reminder of impermanence – most salient in its manifestation of death. Death of heroes (and villains) who, in my limited perception of our world and times, had always been there, now suddenly dancing to the end of love, giving up on the me and you, standing before the Lord of Song. And, yes, I’m much more of a worshipper of Leonard Cohen than of David Bowie. I’m sorry. Also (on a more private note) my mother’s death this summer. Not totally unexpected, but still sudden, and (as these things go) a trigger for memories, self-exploration, and the timeless insight that we’re just passing through. So, yes, nothing lasts. Which in itself is another reminder, namely to be grateful for what is while it lasts. And now, as 2016 is about to die, too, I wholeheartedly pound its remaining illusions of permanence, vowing to cherish what is as it is.
With impermanence – also in its more subtle forms of gradual, subtle, or almost imperceptible change – comes emotion. And 2016 was definitely a year of sweeping emotional tides, especially in what it brought to the public arena. For me, the reminder here was and is of the highly inflammable nature of all emotions – in combination with our inability to notice, attend to, and interpret emotions in all their vastness, depth, and complexity. Truth in a purely fact-based understanding is already a multi-headed monster – which reminds me of another musical discovery of mine in 2016: Hundreds and their Ten-Headed Beast (as well as all their other songs). And truth infused with emotional under- and overtones is even harder to grasp, explore, and talk about. Which for me is another reminder, namely to pay attention to where (my own and others’) emotions come from and go to: What makes me angry, mad, or sad? And why? What makes me calm, joyful, or happy? And why? What happens when I spot an emotion the moment it starts to draw its first breath? So now, as 2016’s emotions are about to subside, I wholeheartedly pound all remaining traces and triggers of (past and future) emotional upheavals, vowing to look each of them straight the eyes right when they cast their first glance.
Emotions are easier to chew when we neatly assign them to either ourselves or to others. With emotion, therefore, comes a tendency to separate out a “me” and a “you”, so I can be (righteously) upset because you are (unrightfully) hateful. Or I can be (passionately and obsessively) in love, while you are (blissfully and ignorantly) unsuspecting. Or I can be (world-wisely) unfazed by you being (zealously) agitated. Alas, 2016’s events and evolutions are furious reminders of how this separation is nothing but another illusion. In our networked world and times, nothing happens in isolation, and the once proverbially inconsequential bag of rice dropping in China now sets into motion global outrage on social media, diplomatic crises, trade wars, military coups, or outright violent conflict. Which randomly reminds me of two books I thoroughly enjoyed reading this year: Juli Zeh’s Unterleuten, a (fictional – or maybe not?) account of wind farms (not) being built in a Brandenburg village, and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, a multi-faceted analysis of how our (sense of) belonging to groups both limits and strengthens our ability to peacefully live together. Anyways: For me, 2016’s frequent reminders that no man is an island are also reminders of our duty as human beings to acknowledge, respect, and jointly explore our differences as playfully as we possibly can. With this, as 2016’s differences are about to merge into the shared experience of a new year dawning, I wholeheartedly pound all clinging to stubbornness, segregation, and self-serving separation, vowing to always see myself in what seems most alien to me.
Finally, separation means taking positions that, by definition, are irreconcilable. And again, 2016’s shocks and surprises are flaring reminders of how this notion of irreconcilability undermines all attempts at solution-building. Those who leave cannot remain, fear cannot accept flowers, liberals cannot be conservatives, lies cannot be true, a bad year cannot be good. More generally: These days, the idea that mutual listening, interested exchange, or constructive debate is not only possible, but achievable and even desirable between those holding different views seems to fall into disregard faster than christmas cookies crumble. Instead, it seems to have become common practice to judge and bucket people based on random single observations – generalisations about as valid as calling every white-hatted, blue-skinned creature a smurf. Tendencies, which, I believe, are a shame for what we can be and do as human beings – and, if anything, a reminder that instead we need to actively engage in disagreement. Which, as we all know but hesitate to acknowledge, takes time, patience, and discipline – or, as my favourite distraction of 2016 has taught me (and many bread-makers before me): Only by pounding the dough, the bread will rise. So, at the end of 2016, I wholeheartedly pound all reluctance to go beyond extremes, vowing to rise above all entanglement in any view whatsoever.
Wishing everyone a grateful, attentive, playful, and (dis-) agreeable 2017.
And: Happy New Year!
Note: All links retrieved on Dec 31st, 2016. Bitmojis created with Bitmoji App on iOS. Tweets screenshot from my own account (@bucketrides).