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2022 review - Chasing dreams in a nightmarish landscape

A year ago, 2022 was just around the corner, much anticipated and with a lot of expectations to live up to. After two years of hardship, restrictions and personal tragedies, 2022 was the year we would overcome COVID and return to normal. A "new normal" even, as this term became overused, particularly in the world of work, as the experiences of remote working from the pandemic would surely bring about some long term positive changes in people's working and personal lives.

Has 2022 delivered on these promises? You might have already detected a tinge of sarcasm in my first lines. Still, as for everything else, each of us will have a very different perspective on it, and what I wanted to share in this article was my own experience of 2022, a year full of contrasts, hence my mention of dreams and nightmares, and hopes for the future. And since an end of year retrospective requires a few "[random things] of the year, you will find some of mine at the end of the article.

The dreams

In last year's review, I branded 2021 as "the year I grew up", reflecting on the ways in which my perspective on life and work had dramatically evolved in that one year, in large part due to the fresh ideas, knowledge and rich exchanges which came out of studying for my MSc. The dream I chased in 2022 was to take this further, and get it to materialise into a career change, to continue develop my knowledge, thinking process, and seek to make my contribution to the world (accepting that a small contribution remains a contribution) through a second career in academia. Being granted a studentship to conduct my PhD at the University of Southampton was clearly one of the highlights of the year; it felt like not only did I have a new door opening for me, but also people on the other side giving me a very warm welcome.

As a run up to the start of my PhD, and culmination of my MSc, conducting my research project on experiences of moral conflict in the defence industry felt like a privilege: first in dedicating time to developing research skills and learning so much on a topic close to my heart, but also by the openness of my research participants, which shared their own experiences in a very open and candid way, enabling me to shed a light on individual moral challenges which aren't often spoken about.

In parallel to this, 2022 was my first full year of writing on this website, sharing views, lived experiences, and some of the interesting concepts and insights I come across through my studies and research. This has become a source of enjoyment and personal enrichment, for the act of writing in itself, but also for the responses and exchanges it generates. Don't get me wrong, my followership remains somewhat intimate, yet simply getting one person getting in touch to share how an article resonated with them, made them think or made them smile, asking me further questions, or sharing their own perspective on it provides a fantastic feeling of fulfilment.

And of course there were other personal dreams pursued this year. One of good health, following my partner's open heart surgery just over a year ago; it has been a wonderful feeling to see him not just recover, but enjoy improved health as a result, with the reassuring regular faint ticking noise his heart now makes! And then there was the joy of becoming dog-parents and welcoming the little Maggie into our lives. This is something we had been contemplating for years, years of staring at other people's dogs and steeling puppy cuddles where we could. Finally, the stars aligned, and we took the plunge. We quickly experienced the challenges of training a puppy, giving more attention to canine bodily fluids than I would have ever imagined... But we also immediately fell in love, and appreciated just how much Maggie was bringing into our lives.

The nightmares

All these positive and happy life events came in the backdrop of some much more disturbing developments in the world around us. Just as I started my research interviews on moral conflicts in defence, Russia invaded Ukraine, starting a war still raging today, and misery for millions of civilians. Many wanted to help those suffering and felt powerless, while we were reminded, rightly so, that deadly conflicts had been ongoing in other corners of the world, not very far for some, for a while, costing countless lives. Conflicts, human rights violations, all things which were pushing some people to take extreme risks to find safety, and others to exploit this desperation, as we saw in the increase of people trying to reach the UK on small boats. The UK's response? Draw up a plan to send people arriving on our shores to Rwanda - a plan with an underlying contradiction I still feel puzzled about, which is the fact that the government was providing reassurance about Rwanda being a safe space where people could live and thrive, while at the same time openly positioning this measure as a deterrent...

Some more troublesome news from this year in quick succession: the treatment of women in Iran causing the current uprising; the short-lived mini budget with hopes of additional wealth for the most privileged to "trickle-down" to other people; the removal of the cap on banker bonuses and planned undoing of the measures which followed the 2008 financial crisis; the cost of living crisis pushing some working people to use food banks - and warmth banks, created for the occasion. Then of course there was the football World Cup. Born out of widely acknowledged bribery, built on the blood of exploited migrant workers, and attempting to normalise the conduct of a regime oppressive, amongst others, to the LGBTQ+ community. And finally, perhaps most importantly, the developments in the climate emergency, the repeated failures to commit to meaningful and tangible action, to admit that a fundamental change in our lifestyles and economic models is urgently needed, all the while extreme weather events accelerate, and nature as a whole deteriorates.

Why list all these causes for doom and gloom? Haven't there always been problems in the world around us? Maybe, and I admit that the change of personal perspective I have talked about has made me much more sensitive to all these crises. Perhaps to an overwhelming extent at times. Still, I think that the sheer extent of the various crises around us, the direct impact they have on people's lives, and all of this when two years of pandemic had left us expecting better days, has made us all feel the weight of these issues, affected us all in one way or another, and contributed to a collective sense of exhaustion which can be felt as we reach the end of the year.

The hopes

Doom and gloom as the world around us might be, it is still possible to find clear signs of hope. To start with, the fact that there seems to be a greater awareness and sensitivity to the issues around us opens the door to greater empathy, even action. As I write, many professional bodies are conducting industrial actions, and it was with a sense of desperate irony that I recently walked by a large photography installation which was left unchanged from 2021, showing pictures of key workers from the pandemic, those we then considered as "heroes", and clapped on our streets, those exact same professions which are now taking action for acceptable pay and conditions. Strikes in the run up to Christmas cause major disruption, yet the public seems to retain a good degree of support for those taking action, a sign that not everyone only has short-term memory.

Awareness and appreciation of matters related to acceptance, inclusion and social justice also seem to be on the rise. In my corporate work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, I regularly run workshops and discussions on these topics. More often than before, attendees come in with a good degree of knowledge, experience, or commitment to support change; it feels like we are moving forward from focusing on raising basic awareness, to helping people to take action, and understand that it is not enough to be neutral.

Looking back at the dreams I described earlier, my sincere hope is to be able to support these movements for change, that my research can ultimately make a contribution, that discussions with fellow students and academics can help people gain new perspectives. I spent the first 40~ish years of my life convinced that the world's challenges were too big for me to even attempt to make a difference, and instead focus on my own small bubble. I now realise that no matter how small my contribution might be, doing anything which pushes the dial in the right direction, even by a fraction, is worth it.

And the rest

To end these reflections on 2022, here are some final thoughts on "stuff" of various descriptions, which has made an impact on me this year.

Song of the year

In the challenging context I described earlier, it is no wonder that my most played song of 2022 was a French 80s classic focusing on self-affirmation and resistance. I included it in my recent article presenting my career soundtrack, it is a call to action on embracing your own individuality, to resist the temptation to conform and make decisions on other people's expectations - French pop with a message!

New word of the year

Rhizome - This one is a relatively recent one for me, coming from my reading of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, which may be surprising, as a rhizome is a botanical term, also called a creeping rootstalk; it's an underground horizontal shoot from a plant, which occasionally sets roots for new plants to grow upwards. Once you picture it, it makes its use on philosophy easier to understand, as it refers to networks connecting various entities, systems sources of power, through a connection which is at first glance not apparent. As I am still learning on its application, you can expect more rhizome-based writing in 2023!

Quote of the year
"We have to create ourselves as a work of art" Michel Foucault

Another input from the world of French philosophy, this time Michel Foucault, who has made regular appearances in my writing in 2022, and indeed in my research. There is of course context around this quote in the work of Foucault, however I think that the quote also stands on its own. I love the idea of seeing ourselves as individuals, our lives and what we stand for as a work of art, in all its individuality, and sense of aesthetic special to each of us. A great way to envisage the new year ahead.


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