Misidentifying problems obscures personal blame

YJ Si, Editor-in-Chief

At the end of every bad year, a similar mantra always comes to mind: something along the lines of “this year sucked, let’s hope the next year is better.”
As this year begins, I hear more and more people saying that 2022 is shaping up to be “2020, 2,” essentially defining 2020 as a collection of bad events happening that seem to be repeating themselves.
Not that it doesn’t seem that way, but it’s a dangerous line of thinking that we shouldn’t get ourselves into.
Each new year brings some sense of a “reset button,” a chance to start anew, forgetting the mistakes and miseries of the year before. Towards the end of 2021, I found myself looking forward to this year, thinking that this time around, no horrible tragedies will occur. I found myself thinking “I can’t wait until 2021 is over,” as if Jan. 1, 2022 would change everything.
And yet, we were once again faced with the opposite—COVID-19 cases shot up with Omicron, and international relations have destabilized further—it certainly seems to parallel the early events of 2020.
Blaming the year itself is not necessarily a horrible thing we should avoid at all costs, but it can hinder our ability to properly identify what made the year bad in the first place.
Instead of blaming science denial or misinformation for the events of the last two years, we summarize it in “2020 and 2021 sucked.”
Associating bad events with the year it occurs rather than the things that actually caused it blinds us from identifying societal faults. If we blame a “cursed year” that has no tangibility, it prevents us from being able to learn from the crisis.
To go back to 2020, it wasn’t a year where we should be identifying a major tragedy every month as a joke. It was the culmination of social unrest alongside a terrible president in the midst of a pandemic—all things that have been building up for far longer than just the year.
Simplifying our problems down to a number leads us to believe that once the number changes, the problems are no longer there.
We end up changing the problem from something that we can take action on to a number that we have no control over. It clouds our responsibility.
Trying to act like the fault lies with things beyond our control is a dangerous path to a cynicism that is hard to get out of once we are convinced we can’t do anything. If we take action, it wouldn’t make a difference because it’s simply “a bad year.”
It’s not just limited to the way we describe years, though. The entirety of the problem lies with our tendency to use broad terms to summarize societal calamities when actually, we can be a lot more specific with how we view the situation. Let me explain.
For example, in our current COVID-19 situation, it’s easy for us to say “the school is not handling this situation correctly.” “The school” is an inanimate, inhuman object. “The school” can’t actually do anything.
And because it can’t do anything, we’re relieved of the responsibility—if we believe, consciously or subconsciously, that the thing we put at fault cannot change, we get sucked into a bout of inaction. We let the responsibility sit with no one to take it.
And if we never place the responsibility with people in authority, people with money, or ourselves, it only gets that much harder to actually take action to fix the issue.
So in this case, instead of blaming “the school” for lack of oversight, we can look at specific issues. Is contact tracing poor? Sure. Why? Because it is nearly impossible for administrative staff to keep track of thousands of students who have been exposed to COVID-19. Why is it so overwhelming? There is a large combination of things, but the governor has not declared an emergency and so virtual school is not allowed as an option. Then, what can we do about it? We can write emails or letters to the people who have the power to change things—the state legislature and the governor.
This is just an example. But it applies to everything else we like to blame. We need to be more mindful of our use of language. We can be more specific about the things we want to change. Instead of blaming things in a way that frames them as out of our control, we can examine the government and political failures that led to the amplification of a crisis we were unprepared for instead of chalking it up to a vague term and forgetting about it. If we are never able to place responsibility with the things actually at fault and seek change, bad things are bound to happen again.
Like it or not, we’re still in this crisis. And I’m starting to get déjà vu.