Hindsight is 2020

I chuckled as I thought of the title: how clever! But that sliver of self satisfaction quickly dwindled as the google search yielded at least a few articles with the same title. So much for originality!

As I started reading those articles though, I find they have a completely different message than the one I. have in mind. The gist of what they are trying to say is now that 2020 is behind us, we should be able to see things more clearly and learn from it. Really? Does the rearview mirror always bring clarity? Let’s examine some of these “clear” visions:

  1. Lesson #1 — The US mishandled the Covid crisis because we deviated from science. It was shocking that the most advanced and most powerful nation was worse at handling the virus than countries like Thailand or Vietnam, but are the lack of trust in science and the incompetence of the government the only culprits here? I’m by no means trying to defend the Trump administration or the conspiracy theorists — that those are bad actors adding fuel to the fire is a given; I’m merely pointing out there are other factors — the fact that America is the least conformist and most rebellious culture and Americans pride themselves on defending their freedom at least played a role in our inability to simply follow the rules and be compliant. No judgment on good or bad — I believe everything has a yin and yang — this unique cultural attribute which has made America strong may also be the Archille’s heel in America’s battle against Covid.

And another thing, science is not black or white. It’s constantly learning and evolving — at the beginning of the crisis, CDC told us masks were not necessary, a position that they U-turned just a couple of months later. We should absolutely trust science, but we should also acknowledge there is still a lot science does not have answers for or has only partial answers for. After all, science is not religion, a blind faith. A healthy dose of skepticism is not such a bad thing.

2. Lesson #2 — Digital is the future and companies should hasten their digital transformation. There is no question that digitization is a secular trend and any company late to the game will have to figure out how to get on that train. That being said, the year 2020 has also highlighted the fact humans are social animals and we just don’t function that well without person-to-person interactions. Some of the hypes on digital companies (e.g., tele health) may be exaggerated, as healthcare is still very much an experiential service industry. While I enjoy the convenience of online scheduling and the ability to check my blood test results in my EMR, I would prefer to see my doctor in person, even for a routine checkup. Similarly, I am thankful for the flexibility to practice Yoga in my house with the Down Dog app, but I also miss the Yoga class at my local gym where I can get feedback from my instructor and socialize with other Yogis. Instead of going full frontal digital, I actually think the next challenge or innovation will come from how we combine the digital and in person elements to achieve the optimal human experience.

3. Lesson #3: We need to center anti-racism in everything we do. What is obvious is despite decades of progressive movements, race is still a touchy and divisive topic in the US. Whatever illusions we may have for where the US is in terms of race and equality, the year 2020 has pierced the thin veil if not shattered it. But I don’t think the country is in agreement on how we move forward: the progressives have pushed for an agenda to correct systematic racism whereas many Americans do not believe in this day and age there is necessarily any systematic racism or there is a need to correct racism systematically. California, one of the most liberal states in the country, has decisively rejected a bill that supports affirmative action — people want equality and support the minority groups but they also believe diversity should not be achieved by mapping out racial proportions.

So what is my point? That 2020 is a blur and 2021 is not much better? Maybe — as far as I can tell, we are still in the midst of the pandemic. People are still dying and suffering economically. Just turning the clock at midnight is not going to change that. And it is going to continue for a while, probably until mid to late 2021. One thing 2020 has taught us is no one can predict the future — except for a few wise folks like Bill Gates, no one saw this pandemic coming. Instead of hoping the dawn of a new year is going to miraculously change everything, maybe we should go back to the original meaning of the phrase “hindsight is 2020”, which is the full knowledge and complete understanding that one has about an event only after it has happened, implication being while you are in the middle of that event, the conditions are typically such that it is impossible for you to make the optimal decision. Yes, today, you may say in hindsight, buying a house in San Francisco in 1990 would be a wise investment, but the reality is in 1990 you were probably not well versed in real estate investments or you probably did not have enough down payment to buy that house even if you wanted to, so thinking about what future hindsight you might have would not have helped you when you were living your life in 1990 worrying about whatever you were worried about. What good would hindsight do if the future you cannot time travel to inform the present you to change your future trajectory?

So here is my point: Yes, 2020 sucked. Most of us can’t wait to put it behind us. And a new year brings hope. But the experience of 2020 is a complex one — as strong as our desire is to wrap it in a bow, it is not exactly behind us. Most of us are still trying to figure out what this seminal year means for us and we may not know its full impact for years to come. And maybe instead of rushing to the future, the best we can do is to accept the fact it happened, let that thought linger for a while, savor it, embrace the suck, the unknown, and then take a long breath out… to leave room for whatever 2021 may bring us…



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