Popular culture

Nicolas: Many important questions to ask in the coming year

How did we allow our sanity to become so fragile?

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On December 15th, the world learned that Bell Hooks had passed away and my heart was broken, along with the hearts of its millions of fans. I can honestly say that the black feminist essayist has changed my life and the lives of so many others, including those who have never read any of her books, or even heard of her. Her reflections and cultural critiques of self-care, gender, and fellowship have become so influential over the decades that many have shared simplified versions of her teachings without knowing that Bell Hooks’ works are their undeniable source.

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In one of his most powerful and accessible works, All About Love, Hooks opens with a list of essential ingredients for a definition of love: care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment and trust, as well as honest and open communication. She explains how popular culture prompts us to ignore affection or the simple acts of care or affection, in themselves, as love. Romantic love is often portrayed as an attraction only; and we always talk about love in the family setting, even when the relationships don’t go beyond a commitment to nurture and shelter one another. Hooks asks: if we learn from an early age that a relationship without respect, trust, or honest and open communication still counts as love, then how are we supposed to aim for healthy, nurturing love as we age? ? Unless, of course, you take the time to unlearn and relearn what the word should mean.

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The teachings of Bell Hooks are perhaps particularly powerful during the holiday season, when families traditionally get together and spend more time with each other. Of course, the pandemic took precedence over tradition this year. Again. Many were forced to cut back or completely cancel their reunion plans, and had to ask themselves: who do I miss and why do I miss him so much? It’s often when we stop taking something for granted, like the ability to see family, that we think about its value the most. Others, who have more complicated family relationships, or who usually spend the holidays alone anyway, also reflected on their own circumstances, the relationships that matter most to them, and how they wanted them to grow up.

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2022 begins with confinement, family bubbles, social distancing and a curfew. Again. Those who had criticized the use of a curfew as a public health measure are ready to share their old arguments from last year once again. Social isolation, the disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, family violence, overdoses, mental health crisis are about to strike us. Again.

After nearly two years of that, it has become a cliché to say that the pandemic has been a big reveal of the inequalities in our society – and the problems in our lives. Those who had strong relationships and a good support system know this now. Those who did not are among those who have struggled the most as the waves of COVID-19 continue to strike.

There are so many reasons to be angry and demanding more of our governments right now. Our leaders must be held accountable for their handling of this pandemic and their lack of foresight as the new variant approaches, and their insufficient support to essential workers and public services. This disappointment and angst at seeing them do more and better is justified, and there will be many more columns to go into more detail on what more citizens deserve.

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For the New Year, however, I wanted to focus on the most insidious, perhaps cultural, reasons why the pandemic has led to so much anxiety, depression, and social isolation. I want to ask: why was the social fabric and mental health of so many people so fragile in the first place? This brings us back to the relevance of doorbell hooks.

Book after book, Hooks explores how intergenerational trauma has shaped the expectations and imaginations of black American communities. She encourages her readers to embrace new visions of love, for example, as a way to heal both the self and its environment from unhealthy habits and traits from collective trauma. The survey method can and should be applied to many other cultural contexts.

Before the pandemic, were all of our “love” relationships based on care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment and trust, as well as honest and open communication? If not, what were the both systemic and more personal reasons for this, and how has this impacted our ability to address this crisis? What kind of change and healing needs to take place for the social fabric to grow stronger?

If the New Year isn’t a good time to ask these big questions, I don’t know when.

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