I read a lot. I like content-forward media and blogs and long-form journalism. It’s where I find inspiration. I’m a reader. I like written stories. I like narratives. Stories are how I interpret the world, and stories are actually how most of us interpret the world.
So I want to talk about interpretation and the stories we tell ourselves. Rather, the stories that we tell ourselves about the past decade. Last Thursday,, as I was browsing the New York Times, the very first Opinion piece listed was “Why Is America So Depressed?”. After skimming the article, I had flashes to the countless other headlines I’ve read from the past year deriding the 2010s as the decade we lost our civility, lost our soul, and lost ourselves. We even lost our sense of time.
When we talk about this past decade, we talk about loss and brokenness. We use words like fatigue, exhaustion, depression. I’m guilty of that too. I’ve spun a narrative that says the 2010s were the decade we ran ourselves into the ground - the decade the world went haywire. For some of us, that narrative might have started in 2016. For others, it started long before then.
The thing is though, stories are exactly that - stories. They’re things that we tell ourselves and repeat and share and narratived that, in some ways, we get to decide. And in the same way you can tell the story that this decade was a mess, you can also tell the story that this decade was one of immense progress and growth. And I don’t mean technological progress and economic growth, but rather, social and cultural progress and growth.
So instead, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the 2010s were one of the most progressive decades we’ve had. It can feel like it was doom and gloom and conflict-ridden, but if we think about it, progress is born on fault lines. It’s through those frictions that we move forward. Occupy Wall Street. Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Time’s up. The list goes on. Things weren’t kumbaya in the 2010s. We fought for things. We fought with each other for things. You could look at this and say this was the most divisive decade we’ve had in a while. Or you could look at this and say it’s the first time we’ve made tangible progress in a while. We woke up. The 2010s became a decade where we were actually living, breathing and fighting for something better.
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I was at my parents’ home over the holidays and in my childhood bedroom I still have old women’s magazines from 2009-2011 (yes, I’m a lowkey hoarder). But through my hoarder tendencies, it means I had the opportunity to revisit them, to see exactly what content I was consuming and holding as my gospel back then. So, I pulled out the Cosmopolitan from January 2010 with Amanda Bynes on the cover and I read it. And let me tell you, it was really bleak. Every model in the magazine was white. The articles all reinforced heteronormative gender cliches. The least controversial sections were pitting women’s outfits against one another. The underlying message pervading the entire magazine was as a woman your role is to be attractive to a man and the way to be attractive is to be thin, white and submissive. I couldn’t find a single article that would actually run today. And it’s not because fashion has changed, but because society’s changed.
We woke up. We’re fighting for equality in the workplace and equal pay. We’re fighting for the right to have our bodies belong to us, to not be assaulted, to not be violated. We’re fighting to turn power dynamics on their head. We’re fighting to not be measured and judged by the way we look. And we didn’t just wake up in how we think about gender dynamics, but in LGBTQ rights. In 2004, only 31% of Americans supported same sex marriage. In 2019, 61% of Americans support same sex marriage. That’s a staggering change. When I was in high school in my liberal hometown outside of Boston in 2009, asking if someone was gay was still considered derogatory. You used those words to cut someone. Now flags hang proudly in those halls. And in college campuses. We’re nowhere near perfect, but progress.
We’ve even started to talk about the things we don’t want to talk about - race. America has always had a complicated relationship with race and it was convenient for a while to say we had a black president and therefore we lived in a post-racial America. But Trayvon Martin and Ferguson and Black Lives Matter woke us up. We’re acutely aware of what belonging and otherhood mean for communities that look different from the ‘status quo’. The University of Wisconsin was recently ridiculed for a homecoming video that only featured white students. We’re far from living in a post-racial society, but for the first time in a long time, we’re willing to say it.
Our next fault line is probably climate change. More people are open to flexitarian lifestyles and meat alternatives. Climate protests are increasing in frequency. Greta Thunberg was named Time’s Person of the Year and has been in Twitter wars with President Trump for a while. This is good news. The conflicts and clashes of the 2010s were a moment of reckoning for an imperfect society who got complacent letting things stay the same for far too long.
The decade wasn’t all wonderful because we are tired, we are fatigued, we are worn out. We know it. We see it. We acknowledge the exhaustion. But maybe, just maybe, we’re exhausted because we moved. We changed. We questioned things. That idea fills me with immense hope and optimism for the next decade. Progress isn’t linear and so the last decade feels bumpier than we’d liked it to be, but we progressed nonetheless. We’ve opened topics of conversation that were closed for a while. We’ve rethought what it means to build a society, to build community, to owe something to one another.
We have a long way to go, but I’m simply suggesting that reframing the stories of the past decade can create even more positive change in this next decade. If we can look back and instead of seeing darkness, we can look back and see movement, we can carry that inertia into this decade. Because there’s change to make. And magic to be created. And we’re in control.