“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
— Edith Lovejoy Pierce
2020 challenged us in ways we could have never imagined. It was a year of anxiety, despair, frustration, sickness and death. We have witnessed racial economic injustices in every sector of our society, unbelievable incompetency in the White House, the adherence to conspiracy theories absent of evidence, small business owners losing everything they had, families unable to put sufficient food on their tables, unemployment reminiscent of the Great Depression, children separated from their families and placed in cages and a pandemic that has cost the United States over 336,000 deaths. Truly 2020 has been a year that has tried the human soul.
Now we stand on the precipice of a new year, 2021. If Edith Lovejoy Pierce is correct that the new year is a book called opportunity, what shall our narrative be?
Perhaps we should begin by articulating our desire and total need for the common good. The question is how we shall envision making it a reality. In previous columns I have mentioned restoring and creating the common good. One woman suggested to me that we no longer know what the common good means for a society. I think we have an intuitive understanding of it expressed in the Constitution. The common good is a society where every person has a real opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For too long only those with privilege and power could have meaningful life and liberty. Aristotle taught us thousands of years ago that happiness is the establishment of a moral state, not a feeling, which is essential for establishing the common good.
Now is the time to make the new year one of creating and maintaining the common good. It should be a reality for all. No one in America should be hungry. All Americans should have proper health care. No person of color should have to have “the talk” about the police with their child or grandchild. Injustice is unacceptable. Every worker needs to have a living wage. To garner an education should not be an albatross of debt but a social investment for our future. Clean water and air are not a luxury but a right. We must return to a sense of the common good.
Maybe in 2021 we can talk about democracy. This republic was to be “of the people” and “for the people.” Instead, we have become so immersed in political ideologies that autocracy almost destroyed our democracy. We still have 50 million people who think the election of Joe Biden for president of the United States was rigged, yet the evidence states otherwise.
Our society needs different voices to be the best we can be. We need conservatives and progressives, Republicans, Democrats and Independents. What we do not need and cannot tolerate are cult worshippers who would be willing to sell our democracy to a man who was elected president but wanted to be king. We need a refresher on what democracy is and what it is not.
May our book of 2021 reflect our willingness to make compassion the bedrock of our narrative. May our pages articulate that whatever we do is not just because it is legal but because we love each other. The shootings and killings of one another in places like Columbus, Nashville, and Columbia is not only expressions of the material conditions of racism, economic disparity, patriarchy, etc. They are also the demonstration of the hole in our souls. Only compassion can overcome the hurt and pain so many of us feel. The bottom line is this: Do you care?
So, in the spirit of Hannukah, Christmastide and Kwanzaa, let the new pages in the book called “Opportunity 2021” reflect our recommitment to the common good, our belief in democracy and the power of compassion. Happy New Year.