It Was a Very Bad Year
Two years ago this month I bid “good riddance” to 2016 in a holiday blog on this website. It had been a terrible year, and I looked forward to seeing it end. Others seemed to agree—tirades about the awful year in blogs and songs went viral.
Now I look back and think, “How naïve!” I thought 2016 was bad? I had no idea. It didn’t seem possible that the toxic climate that had dominated in the Presidential election that year could possibly get worse, but of course it has. In fact, “toxic” has just been voted the word of the year by the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, which suggests how widely the word is being used to describe not only the political climate in the US, but the state of the environment worldwide, the growing refugee crises, the rise of nationalism, and the rapid decay of truth, language, civility.
But as bad as it’s been, 2018 is NOT the worst year ever. According to a recent Time.com post by Raisa Bruner, that honor goes to the year 536 AD when a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland darkened the entire northern hemisphere for a year-and-a-half, destroying crops and leading to widespread famine. Then the bubonic plague set in killing millions across Europe. The combined disasters undermined the economy and crippled culture, and it took over a century for Europe to recover. THOSE were some bad years.
It helps to put our own times in perspective. This does not mean we should abandon our critical acumen and become Pollyannas; it just means we should get our facts straight before we bemoan that it is the worst of times (OR celebrate that it’s the best).
So with that in mind, I’d like to offer a different word of the year. Instead of “toxic,” I’d like to suggest that the word of the year should be “curate.” The active verb offers us more guidance than the passive adjective—and the two are related: we all need to curate the news, tweets, texts and tv we expose ourselves to in order to prevent toxic overload. And we need to leaven our exposure to contemporary toxicity with historic context on a regular basis. Curating should not mean focusing only on what we want to read/hear/watch in order to sustain a predetermined position. It should involve being judicious about our choices in the interest of gaining real wisdom and perspective.
And that brings me back to spaced repetition (you were wondering how this rant would relate?). Effectively employing spaced repetition requires curating the information we are working to remember. We can’t remember everything; we shouldn’t remember everything. But with judicious curating, we can remember a lot, learn broadly and deeply, stay in tune with the present and the past, not get overwhelmed with information overload (a danger likely only to increase in the coming years), and dump what we don’t need.
So here’s to 2019: I plan to spend some quiet moments early in the year curating what I intentionally choose to remember, selecting beneficial knowledge to accrue, and throwing out the rest. Happy new year, friends, and happy curating!