Finding positivity in an exceptionally difficult year

The global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world has changed everything. With over one million worldwide deaths, ushering in the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the resulting culture clashes between personal freedoms and public safety, it is safe to say 2020 has been an earth-shattering year of political, economic and socio-cultural upheaval, whose repercussions will continue to reverberate for decades to come.

Amid the doom and gloom the year has brought, The Source newspaper interviewed myriad individuals and groups from different walks of life, living, working and creating in Vancouver, each confronting the pandemic on their own terms. They found ways to persevere in the face of the pandemic, discover new methods to create art and culture, and foster inclusion and empathy in troubled times.

“We have to continue to live our lives,” reporter Liam Sfaxi remarked in his July Verbatim. “No matter the state of the world. I haven’t been stopped from finding some light in all of the shadows.”

Let’s take a look back at some of the stories we brought you this year.

Individuals and societies coping in lockdown

When the pandemic forced the country to lock-down and cancel in-person social gatherings, many people found themselves facing an uncertain future. In April, reporter Dan Walton told us about the extra layer of challenges new Canadians and non-citizens faced. Many of them either worked in the service industry where there is a higher risk of transmission and exposure, or were recently laid off and struggling to find employment. Many coped with the social distancing measures by turning to online communities, both here in Canada and in their home country. In doing so, they hoped to build and strengthenconnections as much as possible, to stem the tide of loneliness and isolation brought about by the virus.

The pandemic raised problems not just for individuals, but for whole societies as well. Reporter Xi Chen spoke with social psychologist Azim Shariff in May who shared his thoughts about the moral dilemmas raised by the coronavirus. One of the dilemmas is the ‘tragedy of the commons’ problem, where people are required to restrain their immediate self-interests to serve the collective group interests. Shariff said tighter cultures like those in East Asia have an easier time enforcing policies which foster group interests, as opposed to looser cultures in the West where individualism is encouraged. Tensions and culture clashes arise when these conflicting interests have to be balanced, and what risks and trade-offs are deemed acceptable or not. The decisions societies make today will help determine tomorrow’s new normal.

Art as a way to make sense of the world

This year saw an unprecedented number of cultural events and festivals cancelled, or heavily modified to enforce social distancing, restricting entertainment activities to the home. In June, reporter Felipe Câmara spoke with founding artistic director of Realwheels Theatre, James Sanders, who, with his eight-year-old son Max, produced a viral video about surviving isolation, showing how they complete household activities and take care of one another in pandemic times. Not only was the project a great father-and-son bonding experience, with Sanders showing his son a film production process from start to finish, but the film raised positive awareness about disability issues and was a hit on social media. He hopes that his and similar artistic projects help to entertain, to build community, and to raise consciousness in a time that desperately needs it.

While filming an art film at home using an iPhone is a relatively modern phenomenon, creating art in times of crisis is an age-old activity. Reporter Simryn Atwal interviewed art historian Jairo Salazar in August who explores the historical role art has served in coping with the devastating effects of global crises. For Salazar, artists try to make visible the invisible enemy, drawing out our emotional responses and expressing our fears and anxieties in a visual medium. Historical art provides a mirror to the past where we can recognize recurring themes of human emotion and experiences and provide a basis for making sense of our experiences today.

“When we ignore the past, we end up making the same mistakes over and over again,” Salazar said. “By looking back in time and at the material and the visual ways we have represented the world around us, we can leave traces for future generations on the ways we managed and the ways we expressed our feelings on a challenging situation.”

Living post-COVID

While the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will, hopefully, one day end, the crisis has also given people an opportunity to reimagine life after COVID. In his August Verbatim, reporter Rafael Zen wrote about how the pandemic exposed the moral hypocrisy in the city. Despite Vancouver’s reputation of being a polite, diverse, equal society, some essential workers are treated with more respect than others, even though all of them share the burden of risk in the pandemic. For Zen, the pandemic has revealed that while our city is beautiful and safe for some, there is still an uneven social structure in play and if our city truly wants to live up to its lofty reputation, then it might be time to usher in a radical equality for all.

In her November Verbatim, reporter Leah Rambally recalled how the last two years had treated her: she had lost her mother last year, was out of a job in March and was full of self-pity with her lot in life. She recounted how an outing with a friend inspired her to realize that the biggest obstacle to her happiness was herself. Freeing herself from the chains of self-loathing and doubt inspired her to foster deep friendships, take on new hobbies, and find a fiancé. For Rambally, confronting her despair head on was what she needed to get her life back on track.

“As we near the one-year mark since COVID-19 took hold of our lives, I have finally learned that although there are many things that are out of my control, when it comes to this pandemic, I am responsible for how I chose to deal with them,” Rambally said.

Whatever the future holds for the people in our city, The Source newspaper will be there to shine a light on the thoughts, ideas and stories that make our community a vibrant and diverse one. Stay safe, follow the directives of the federal and provincial public health officers and let’s all have a better new year in 2021!