We entered 2021 with cautious optimism. A new year. A fresh start. Time for reflecting, refreshing, and resolving. We believed that nothing could batter us as brutally as 2020 did. Now, we wonder.
One of the most worn but apt words used to describe 2020 is “pivotal.” We pivoted from a mobile, office-established workforce to a remote, virtually connected population. We moved from a socially insular world to one with eyes wide open to racial injustice and inequality. We transformed from a health-confident, interactive people to a vast and isolated number of individuals, distanced and masked. And in the midst of it all, our sense of truth and integrity was assaulted by a global leader espousing alternative facts, dangerous conspiracy theories, and divisive rhetoric.
Most of the painful realities and pivots of 2020 will ultimately make us stronger. Vaccines will get us back to living and working in close proximity, with smarter practices and work habits. Commitments and promises will be kept as we seek a more just and equitable world and workplace, and progress will be measured. The business of doing business will rediscover its heartbeat, and brands will heed the lessons of the past year by finding purpose and delivering authentic value. Comradery and closeness will eventually be safe again, and in time we hope to see industries and communities convening to collaborate and shake hands over new ideas and partnerships.
One by-product of 2020, however, reared its ugly head in our nation’s Capitol on January 6, and because it threatens to prevail, it also threatens to undo us. It is more than the persistent, caustic, and distorted noise that emanates from certain quarters. It is also the echo and actions of an agitated minority, spoon-fed bias and deafness to the voice of the electorate and the opinions of the courts. It is the misguided passion of people—wielding flags and guns and raw hate—who storm against a truth they have been convinced not to see.
I have been trying to find meaning in the actions that were perpetrated against our country on January 6. As a lawyer, I was trained to understand both sides of an argument, and I am fully aware that I am no better or no worse than the people with whom I disagree. But try as I might to see this episode from both perspectives, I find no place to hang my hat on what I firmly believe is the wrong side of reality. When I witness falsehoods and hatred flung from a podium that bears the presidential seal or watch in horror as throngs of people break windows, laws and bones—and also take lives—in an attempt to perpetrate a myth, it is not O.K. Some things, like truth, are sacred. We can’t accept a lower bar for what is fact … that can’t be where we go as we venture into 2021.
Reflecting on all that the pandemic has changed, we often long for normality. Most of us have come to terms with the fact that in many ways we will never get back to normal. Instead, we’ll arrive at a new normal. But that new normal cannot include a lower standard for tolerance, truth, human decency, and kindness. In the context of what we tolerate, if there is a new normal the bar has to go up, not down.
Throughout the course of 2020, I have frequently reflected on the words of Kurt Tucholsky, a German essayist of Jewish origin whose words are carved in a large stone outside of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel. The quote is simply: “A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.” We cannot tolerate lies. There may be different criteria for good or bad … but not for truth.
The new normal will surely be defined by closer ties to family and home, fewer business trips, new ways of working, new ways of living, shopping, dining, entertaining, and communicating. But the new normal must also be defined by more generosity, kindness, fairness, integrity, tolerance, and truth.
Words alone cannot make a better world. Action is required. For me, I humbly intend to lead by example in 2021. I will support, champion and vote for what is humane and kind. I will confront racism wherever it occurs and give my time, energy and gifts to others who are in the same fight. I will encourage our team to live and work where they feel comfortable and confident to do their best work. I will continue to help our clients and partners grow and do well by doing good.
For our industry, I sincerely hope to see a continuation of the incredible responses and actions that 2020 inspired. We gave new meaning to the word partnership. We reinvented the way we work and the way our brands talk to and show up for people. We turned our passion for words, images and creativity into powerful messages of hope to keep the world informed, engaged and inspired. We’ve written new stories—how do we make sure they endure? It’s not just the narrative that has to change, it’s the plot. The good news is that our industry is filled with some of the most brilliant and innovative thinkers. We have to continue to unleash our full potential to create a better world.
I will hold on relentlessly to my belief that when faced with pain, hatred and disenchantment, the human spirit is resilient and overwhelmingly compassionate. We can make great things happen in 2021. We must.