You don’t need me to tell you what kind of year this has been.
But, I wanted to finish this year on a positive note. If you look hard enough, there are some bright sparks in the murky fog. Various different groups of people have found some positives this year, but I wanted to think about the positives that apply to the whole of humanity, not just a privileged few.
In no particular order, here are four incredible things that will benefit everyone, that are the direct result of this terrible year.
This is the first year in my life that mental health has been a truly mainstream discussion – both in public life and private. Politicians across the world have openly spoken about the importance of looking after our mental health and have implemented policies to help.
Even in the strictest lockdowns here in the UK, we’ve been allowed to walk/run/play in the national parks and green spaces; politicians acknowledging that this simple exception to lockdown is vital for mental health. In private, I have been struck by friends, across all walks of life, talking openly about their mental health; something that would never have happened before this year.
I am part of a generation that has been taught that problems with mental health are shameful and must be hidden away. An attitude I have never agreed with. This year, that attitude has been swept away in a fundamental shift. An acknowledgement that good mental health is not a fixed state of affairs but must be nurtured and cared for in the same way that we nurture and care for our physical health. This is truly brilliant and I am sure that this attitude will save lives for many years to come.
Black Lives Matter
This year has put the Black Lives Matter movement at the front and centre of political discussion. Nothing will make up for the terrible tragedies that have happened this year. But from these tragedies so many people and organisations, that would never have spoken up before, have publicly pledged to support ending racism by taking real action. Educational institutions, including Oxford University, have started the process of identifying and acknowledging the racist bias entwined throughout its teachings and infrastructure.
Many people have started to educate themselves about racism – particularly the endemic denial racism – and have made strides in identifying their own biased behaviours and attitudes. Should this have happened earlier? Yes. Am I glad it’s happening now. Definitely. Keeping up the momentum will be our collective responsibility in 2021 and beyond.
Free Public Green Spaces
Free public green spaces have been under threat across the world; gradually and insidiously being privatised. This year has placed them at the front and centre of our lives. Their importance to mental health, our sense of community, our environment and our idea of what constitutes a well lived life has placed free public green spaces at the heart of what it means to be human. Rather than rolling back that privilege, free public green spaces are now at the heart of political planning across the world. This is huge!
Perhaps the most important development this year has been coming to terms with what we secretly already knew but couldn’t face. That many agricultural practices surrounding animals are the hotbed for the rise of epidemics and pandemics. Anybody who has had the slightest curiosity about the origin of COVID, Sars, Mers and all the other pandemics and epidemics that have arisen in living memory will have read that they have arisen from some form of animal agriculture.
This is not a blame game, pointing the finger at Wuhan wet markets. The practices across the world are such that a pandemic could arise from any country. As a cattle farmer’s granddaughter, I don’t want to point the finger at farmers – who are the custodians of our planet and most of whom have a deep love of animals and their land. But when consumers demand, buy and consume cheap meat, those demands have consequences.
The changes in attitude toward animal agriculture that started before this year but have been accelerated by COVID will have a direct positive consequence on avoiding the rise of future pandemics.