It’s the final week of December, when newspaper columnists reflect on the past twelve months and write about such Earth-shattering things as “The Worst Movies of 2012”, “This Year’s Most Powerful Tweets”, or simply publish the usual list of celebrities who have died this year.
As I look back on 2012, I saw something more significant; that’s why I’m going to call 2012 “The Year of Awakenings”. During the past twelve months, we, the general public, finally opened our collective eyes and acknowledged some disturbing things about ourselves and our societies. More importantly, we resolved to actually do something about them. We may not see sweeping changes just yet, but we are taking the first steps toward improving our world, and the way we treat each other. Here, in chronological order, are four examples of events that led to our awakenings:
Tim Cook Visits Foxconn: Earlier this year, Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, visited a Foxconn factory in China. Foxconn is the company that manufactures and assembles components for many Apple products. For years, we’ve heard stories about deplorable working conditions in Chinese factories, conditions so intolerable that there have been reports of some workers jumping out of the factory windows to their deaths. However, other than condemn this situation, we didn’t actually do anything about it. Our media continues to treat Apple’s product announcements as major news stories, and we still line up around the block outside Apple stores to be the first to buy the latest version of an iDevice. Tim Cook’s visit to Foxconn represented an awakening for us in North America because he (and some other Apple executives) sat down with the Foxconn managers and pledged to work together to improve the working conditions for the employees. Naturally, this will not be a rapid transformation, but there is already evidence of this promised change: Apple is moving the production of the Mac Mini to the United States, and assembly line workers are getting their plastic stools replaced with chairs with back support.
Amanda Todd’s Suicide: On October 10, 2012, Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old girl from British Columbia, committed suicide. The previous month, she had posted a video on YouTube called My Story, and in it she described, through a series of hand-written index cards, the bullying and harassment she was enduring from her classmates. While stories about bullying do receive media coverage from time to time, Todd’s suicide galvanized the nation. Bullying drove this girl to take her own life. Previous generations simply accepted bullying as a part of growing up, but now we can no longer ignore or minimize the devastating impact it can have on children and teenagers. The deleterious effects of bullying now exist in our collective consciousness, and anti-bullying campaigns are being launched nation-wide. Amanda Todd’s death was our awakening.
The Newtown, Connecticut Elementary School Massacre: This tragedy – so horrible that it defies understanding – has renewed debate in the United States about gun control. Whenever there is a mass shooting in the States – Columbine High School in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, the Colorado movie theatre in 2012 – it usually sparks some discussion about gun control and accessibility. However, the Newtown massacre was different; this gun control debate is much more fervent and widespread. People are now questioning the interpretation of the Second Amendment, and some are even changing their position on gun control and challenging the intransigent views of the NRA. While the nation is still polarized on the issue of gun control, an awakening has occurred, and changes may follow.
Indian Gang Rape Victim Dies of her Injuries: On December 16th, a young Indian woman – a medical student – boarded a bus in New Delhi with a male friend, after returning home from a movie. Six men, including the bus driver beat both of them, gang-raped the woman, did unspeakable things to her with a metal rod, and then threw them off the bus, naked, and onto the street. The woman was taken to hospital, and remained in critical condition with brain damage and significant internal injuries. She finally succumbed to those injuries on December 28th, and the charges against the six men were upgraded to murder. While violence against women is common in India, this incident led to an awakening: people were outraged and took to the streets in protest. People around the world are now more acutely aware of the extent of sexual violence against women in India. What was once tacitly accepted or swept under the rug has now been exposed, shamefully, for the world to see. Our eyes have been opened, the media is now examining the Indian culture to look for explanations, as a hopeful first step toward instigating change.
As we look back on 2012, we may be tempted to congratulate ourselves for our increased enlightenment, compassion and sensitivity. However, I don’t think we should be too hasty with our approbation. In each of these examples, the catalyst for the awakening was always a tragedy. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future our awakenings will emerge on their own, and not be precipitated by suffering or death. This is my hope for the new year.