Seeing a very different 2020

It goes without saying that 2020 was not the brightest year. But despite all the hardship, progress still flowed like a stream beneath the surface.

Brian Blanco/AP
Dayja Hogg stands in front of the courthouse in Whitesburg, Kentucky, on Sept. 16, 2020. She helped organize a protest against racism in her hometown.

If you click here, you will find something conspicuously intended to encourage you to reconsider the year now almost completed. It is an overview of all 274 points of progress The Christian Science Monitor has chronicled in 2020.

It goes without saying that 2020 has not been the brightest of years. Considering political partisanship, racial unrest, and the pandemic, the world would probably have been quite happy to take two 2019s and move straight on to 2021. But despite all the hardship and heartache, that would miss something important.

In an article titled “The New Birth,” the founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, “Progress is the law of infinity.” That is not to say that everything is blithely and blindly called progress out of some naive optimism. But it is to say that no experience, however severe, comes without a lesson and an opportunity for growth. Do we always listen to that lesson? Do we always get it right? Of course not. Yet this growth creates a direction. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed to this direction in his statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Physicists are still not entirely clear on why time runs only in one direction. Yet our experiences suggest it does. So it is with progress. Years or decades or perhaps even centuries can appear to stall the march of progress, even reverse it. The picture can be bleak. Yet even then, progress is still flowing like a stream beneath the surface.

In a year like 2020, our 274 points of progress (which are surely a small fraction of all the progress that occurred) might seem inconsequential beside the anger and anguish of the year’s larger stories. Yet how are we to find our way out of the pandemic? Toxic partisanship? Racial hatred and ignorance? Precisely by learning the lessons of progress, wherever they may be found.

I recently talked to Cassie Chambers Armstrong, the author of “Hill Women,” which chronicles the generations of strong, resourceful Appalachian women who helped her on her way to three Ivy League degrees. She grew up in the poorest county in Appalachia – and the United States – and here is her view of the seemingly intractable poverty that affects the region: “The place has all the skills it needs to solve its own problems.”

The solution, she says, is already present in Appalachia’s ingenuity, its resilience, and its deep community connections. The way forward is in building on those strengths, which often seem hidden (to outsiders), not in treating it as a hopeless charity case that needs rescuing.

The same could be said of 2020, in a way. The seed of a better 2021 is the progress made in 2020, humbly and honestly probed to learn its best lessons. Whether we heed those lessons is up to us. But we can be sure of one thing: There will be more progress to learn from next year.

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