A lot of us are glad to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. This past year has been rough in a way that rough doesn’t begin to describe.
But here's the deal - there's no reason to expect 2021 will be any easier.
On the pandemic front, Anthony Fauci doesn't see a return to "normal" until the late part of Fall,
On the economy front, Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Airlines, expects "the next 12 months to be even more challenging”,
On the flood, fire, famine front, weather may cool off a bit in 2021, thanks to La Niña conditions, but experts say there is a 6-in-10 chance weather events will be more extreme than average
Can't Change the Situation? Change the Story
When I hear people talk about the events of last year it's as if they are talking about a movie. As if 2020 was scripted and we all just had to endure it.
For 2021 I think we all need to work together to tell a better story. Ideally this will be a story about the way we pull together to overcome another bummer of a year.
When you look at our favorite stories, myths, and legends you see that very often the successful outcome of the story happened precisely becauseof a ton of suck. Novelist and jazz scholar Albert Murray called this “antagonistic cooperation.” The fire from the dragon threatening the village is the very thing that forges the sword to defeat the dragon.
The Gratitude Sandwich
The stories we tell ourselves have a way of coming true. At any rate they stick in our minds and color every event that comes our way.
Linguistics professor George Lakoff noticed this power of stories to shape perceptions in the way journalists write headlines. Particularly headlines and stories about lies vs. truth. It turns out that when you report on a lie, even when you call it a lie, you make the story live a little bit longer. You reinforce the narrative simply by repeating it.
To fix this problem of lies becoming more memorable than the truth, Lakoff proposed a rhetorical device he calls a "truth sandwich" - state the truth, report on the lie, restate the truth.
A recent example of a “truth sandwich” was stated by Yamiche Alcindor: It’s been a few days since VP nominee Kamala Harris joined Joe Biden’s ticket & birtherism attacks have begun….a Trump campaign advisor is openly questioning whether Harris is eligible to be on the ticket. Harris was born in the U.S. & is clearly eligible.
This type of reporting gives more weight to the truth, make truth rest in the mind longer.
I think we can do the same thing terrible circumstances. I recently heard someone say "I used to complain about work from home until I realized that it mean I had a job and a place to live."
Here's how a "gratitude sandwich" might work:
Start with something you are grateful for,
Tell the truth of the bad situation,
End with a benefit, particularly something you took part in.
For example, you might say "we had a nice Christmas party this year. Of course we had to hold it remotely, over Zoom, and that sucked. But I did my best to participate and I got to meet some people I might not have met otherwise."
The point isn't to might light of, or trivialize, genuinely difficult events. The point is to keep the positive outcomes from getting drowned out by the bad.