For 2021, Let’s at Least do the Least

By Gwyn Lurie   |   December 31, 2020

It’s hard to believe that this decade (and by decade, I mean this past year) is finally coming to an end. However, for those of us fortunate enough to have made it through, it does seem we are about to see the backside of the most tumultuous, trying, and confusing year in memory. 2020, don’t let the door hit you in your rear on your way out. Wait, unless… perish the thought… 2020 refuses to recognize the transition to 2021 and we’re forced to show this lout of a year the way out.

It’s hard to believe it was only a year ago that we launched the new iteration of the Montecito Journal. In my dreams of how this “honeymoon period” would go, I factored in neither a pandemic nor the financial and human disaster it would cause. Like most, I did not foresee massive social upheaval, nor assumed and seemingly fundamental tenets of our democracy would themselves be on trial. I knew our country was divided, but the depths of these divisions were not fully understood by me. The confluence of these and other aggravating factors created a perfect storm that has tested our nation, our community, and each of us as individuals.  

Every day there are reminders of how divided we are – politically, economically, socially. Who gets health care and who does not? Who believes this election was legitimate, who does not? Who will get the COVID vaccines first? Who will choose not to get vaccinated at all? Who has access to Wi-Fi so their kids can learn remotely? Who has health insurance? Who will come out of this time with a job? With a business? With a home? Who can feed their family? Who lives? Who dies?  

The fact is, many of us live in something of a bubble, insulated from much of what is affecting people day-in and day-out. I find myself wondering, are those things not happening here or are we just not conscious of them? While technology allows many of us to feel so connected, in many ways we are more isolated than ever – isolated in suffering, in death, in grieving. But just because we can’t hear the screams doesn’t mean people aren’t screaming. The fact is there is real struggle going on all around us, for many the struggle of simply living, and inaction by the rest of us is simply not acceptable. Not in the world I want to be a part of.

Therein lies the quandary. It is critical as we try to right the ship that is America that we not become collectively paralyzed into inaction, but rather everyone should do at least the least they can.

In our community we often feel good about how we come together during difficult times. But that begs the question: who is included in “our community”? Is our community just the people who own homes/pay property taxes here? Or does it include the people who rent here? Work here? And where is “here”? Are the houseless part of our community? And, if so, how can we help to better the lives of all who consider Montecito and its environs, home? Because the beneficence and attitudes of our housed citizens will affect our houseless. Just as the attitudes of our houseless will affect those of us with viable shelter. 

Last night my kids spoke to us emotionally about some of the kids at their schools that are houseless. I believe at Santa Barbara High there are approximately 14 such students matriculated. My daughters pointed out that at the end of the school day, when most kids are relieved because school is over, the worst part of their day begins. That our community can let that happen doesn’t make sense to my teenage daughters. And I hope it never does make sense to them that we have created plenty of places to park our cars but not to house all of our citizens.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Especially ones having to do with weight loss. But I believe there are some things we do need to lose and gain and so as this beast of a year comes to an end, I find myself with some quite lofty resolutions, involving more than just myself. They involve our country, but first and foremost our community because I deeply believe that important change, necessary healing, starts right here at home. As the song goes, “I’m looking at that man (woman) in the mirror.” 

My resolution is to do away with an overreliance on labels. Labels that place ourselves and others into overly simplistic boxes that are not just unhelpful, but harmful, and serve only to further divide us. Labels like “liberal,” “conservative,” “socialist,” “immigrant,” “citizen,” “patriot,” “traitor.” Have any of these labels been helpful? Can’t we look at things not as Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians but as compassionate individuals with a variety of different ideas for how to fix our problems? What matters most is our values. And that our personal actions and that of our leaders, and the public policy they put forth, reflect those values.

At this moment Montecito is in the middle of an unprecedented real estate boom, bringing to it people from near and far. People who can choose to live anywhere have long gravitated to our village, but this seems more-true now than ever. Here, on this small patch of paradise, we punch far above our weight in many ways. Collectively, our residents have greater access to the power and means to make a difference than most communities have anywhere in the world. Right now, our little hamlet is on the world’s radar in a way that not only raises the value of our homes, but raises the value of our actions. How we behave, what we value, how strongly we support our local nonprofits, is a model for the world. 

Looking forward to 2021 and presumably a new administration, how can we begin to fix problems that seem so much bigger than we are? Problems further reaching than our arms or our pocketbooks could possibly stretch?

I am reminded of something I read years ago, though I can’t unearth where, that said the problem with the quantity and enormity of our problems is that they move us to… nothing. They paralyze us. Ironically, the sheer critical mass of our problems moves us to… inaction.

And therein lies the quandary. It is critical as we try to right the ship that is America that we not become collectively paralyzed into inaction, but rather that everyone do at least the least they can. The idea here is that if everyone did something, it would go much further towards moving the needle on our massive problems than waiting for Jeff Bezos to write a massive check, or for our notoriously unagile government to fix things. 

I’m calling on all of us not to give in to “enormity paralysis.” Instead, do at least the least you can. Start there. I am hopeful that if we do so, we can make a profound difference. As James Baldwin said: “I can’t be a pessimist because I am alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter. So, I am forced to be an optimist.”

I hope you will join me in optimism. Commit to doing at least the least. Give what you can to charities. Demand integrity and civility from our leaders, and the same from ourselves. Let’s resolve to take care of one another. Because we’re each better off when we’re all better off. Show grace. Show empathy. Be kind. Just because we have the right to say whatever we want whenever we want to whomever we want, doesn’t mean we should. Words hurt. There’s enough hurt in this world.

I wish each and every one of you a happy and healthy holiday season and a peaceful and gentler New Year! It is with great hope and faith in us and optimism that I look forward to 2021. They say that hindsight is always 2020. I, for one, cannot wait till 2020 is in my rearview mirror.


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