The calendar has turned over a new page to 2017, so it’s time to say “Goodbye 2016” with a look back. At the end of this year, I felt a certain mixture of dread, melancholy and cynicism. It’s hardly the thing to get into the holiday spirit. And no wonder, looking at the first list of things that brought me grief and despair. Thank goodness for the things in the following 3 sections that soothed my soul (from grief), spurred me to action (instead of cynicism), and brought me joy or wonder (instead of despair).
Grief & Despair
We’ll start with the negatives first to get it out of the way.
- Probably the thing that dismays me most about the Brexit vote and the US Election is the triumph of populism over intelligent and rational discussion in big political outcomes. The attacks on the “intellectual elite” have been so blindly fierce that I can’t help but parallel it to China’s Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. When you can’t debate or discuss your opposing views using facts, logic and reason, it causes me great fear. “America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny” by Andrew Sullivan in the New York Magazine applies to more than just the US, it applies around the world in many countries. Just watch the next round of elections in countries around the world.
- The ongoing civil war in Syria, causing the displacement of millions of their citizens. The fall of Aleppo in December is the most recent terrible milestone in that crisis. I know I can’t fully understand the roots of this conflict, or all the interconnecting web of factors at play that continue to stymie attempts for resolution. This excellent piece by Mark McKinnon of the Globe at least helped me to start to understand: The Grafitti Kids Who Sparked the Syrian War
- That there had to be a Black Lives Matter movement to bring more mainstream coverage to an issue that’s long simmering. And the inability for many with the privilege to be sheltered from this reality to acknowledge their privilege in order to continue the conversation to make forward progress.
- Terror attacks around the world. The maniacal Philippine president in his ruthless tactics in their war against drugs. The unnecessarily harsh law enforcement reaction to the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. All the terrible things that humans do to one another.
- The death of so many artists this year. Music can have so much power in our lives. The right combination of melody, lyrics, and rhythm can stir us to move and dance, to fall in love, to stand and fight, or to cry for our loss. Actors and personalities allow us the fantasy of other lives, where their comedy and drama entertain us, and we are glad their plot points aren’t happening *to* us. The loss of these artists this year means the loss of the art they produce. The world feels dimmer without them.
Balms that soothe the soul
- Belatedly discovering Maria Popova’s brilliant blog Brain Pickings. Here is a place where thoughtful, intelligent reviews and commentary on literature, writing, writers and artists, and “big ideas” matter. She celebrated the blog’s 10th anniversary this year, and her “10 Lessons from 10 Years of Brain Pickings” hit me like a splash of cold water to the face. So much so that I bought the poster that adapted the first 7 lessons (from when the blog turned 7).
- Tai, my loving husband, is my best friend and confidante. And the best dad I could ever dream of for my girls. He is a true parent, both doing the fun things (building kites, bottle rockets) and the mind numbing tedious things (bed time herding, making school lunches, answering unending questions). He sets a great expectation of what they should expect and demand to be treated in their relationships.
- E1’s lively imagination in her creative play. She is rarely one to say, “I’m bored” because she’s always making something up. Her flights of fancy never cease to make me smile.
- Nuzzling into E2’s cheek after she sneaks onto my lap. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and her sweetness warms my heart.
- The inspiring dedication of the groups of ordinary Canadian citizens who are sponsoring Syrian refugees to settle in Canada.
- Having a great core group of friends who consistently make the effort to connect and spend time together. We swap parenting strategies, career advice, home advice…it all goes. Whether it’s trips to Great Wolf Lodge, camping, group date nights, excursions to Canada’s Wonderland, or house / swim parties, I’m grateful for our (real) social network.
- Working at a great company where the work is enjoyable, the mission and our clients are aligned with the type of impact I want to make in the world, and a wonderful group of colleagues that I like, respect, and enjoy spending time with.
These are the things that spurred me to take action in certain areas of my life.
Digital Education for my children
The book Reclaiming Conversations: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle was transformative for me. It was the first I’ve come across that really discussed what was at the root of all these multifaceted symptoms of technology use that I’ve either felt and experienced personally, or read about. And then it pointed out more that I didn’t even realize. Some criticize this book as fear-mongering, ignoring the true benefits of technology. I took this book to be eye-opening and informative so that we use these tools with the fuller understanding of the potential downsides. It’s the book I purchased my own hardcopy after reading the library’s copy, and the book I’ve most recommended.
It’s particularly influencing how my husband and I are approaching the thorny issue of when to allow our daughters their own smartphones. Combined with the following particularly memorable or insightful items, my two actions were 1)putting away my phone more; and 2) refining my parenting strategy for smartphones and kids:
- “I Used to Be a Human Being” by Andrew Sullivan (again!) in New York Mag
- “13, Right now” by Jessica Contrera in the Washington Post
- “The Binge Breaker” by Bianca Bosker in The Atlantic
- The youtube video of Simon Sinek’s talk about Millennials in the Workplace (https://youtu.be/hER0Qp6QJNU) actually applies to all of us, both in our own personal behaviour, and in how we raise our kids.
- The World Economic Forum published Yuhyun Park’s “8 Digital Skills all children need and a plan for teaching them“. While it’s more of a framework than a plan, it is a helpful way to categorize the different facets of Digital Citizenship (the ability to use digital technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways) so we can plan our own lessons at home.
Organizational Structure at my work
I decided to start up a book club at GrantBook, where I work, because I found many of my colleagues have a similar love of reading and discussing the ideas within. Peter, the cofounder of GrantBook, suggested this book based on a recommendation given to him — Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux. Noone could have predicted the impact of this book on our company. We knew we had quite a unique company culture in the level of respect we had for each other, and how we operated. This book was able to articulate for us what some of our “secret sauce” factors were. And provided a vision on how to take it further so we’re operating as a “Teal” organization.
Some organizational theorists have different terms to describe similar concepts: Holacracy, Integral, Self-Management. I remember hearing about the concept of Holacracy back in 2012 or 2013 and thinking it was a crock of sh*t. But that’s a typical cynic’s reaction. I’ve dropped a lot of my cynicism in the last two years, and I’m really motivated by what our company can achieve together. Peter was a huge part of establishing our culture organically, but he is planning to start something else soon. We wanted to inoculate our company culture so it continues on being awesome regardless of what individuals are here or not. It’s been satisfying being one of the instigators to formalize what being a Teal organization means.
Joy and Wonder
Sometimes there are just things that make you stop, sit up, and take notice, because of the joy or wonder they inspire. These were the things that did it for me this year:
- Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves all the awards and accolades it receives. It is so multi-layered and dense, and yet so approachable in it’s contemporary form, that it’s a revelation. (“You want a revolution? I want a revelation!”) Ever since late 2015 I devoured the soundtrack, pored over the Hamilton Annotation Project analysis over on Genius, and watched countless Youtube videos. Watching it in Chicago in November was incredible, and made me love the musical even more.
- OK Go’s music video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” continues their creative winning streak. Whenever I’m having a bad day, a dose of OK Go videos is a good way to kick out the grumblies.
- Wake Up Rosetta! Who says science and astronomy doesn’t have heart? I nearly cried watching this recap story of the satellite Rosetta, which just finished a planned crash landing onto comet 67P. Sleep well, Rosetta and Philae! https://youtu.be/lVKFyFbfpOI
- Viewing the Super Moon just above on the horizon at dusk was incredible. For those fleeting moments on November 14, the moon looked huge and golden orange against the clear eastern sky. It brought back memories of seeing a harvest full moon in Winnipeg in my teens. Looking down the flat highway to the prairie, the rising moon in the early evening light looked like it swallowed a quarter of the horizon.
- Diving off the dock into the lake at a friend’s cottage, and then floating on my back was a real summer moment. I was so content lying in the water, the sounds of our kids muffled, while the sun filtered in and out of the clouds.
- Watching live dance (National Ballet of Canada, La Sylphide and Cacti in particular; Fall for Dance North and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in particular) and theatre (ARC’s Pomona, Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie)
- Finishing off our 1000 piece puzzle of candies over the holidays.
- And finally, reading books brought me joy! Is there anything more wonderful than being transported away by great story, characters, and language? These were my reads of 2016 that rise to the top of the list:
- The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle), Patrick Rothfuss
- Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye
- Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
- The Martian, Andy Weir
- When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
Well, I have fresh hopes for 2017. May you and yours have more joy and wonder in 2017 than cause for grief and despair. Happy New Year.