In Patagonia, both residents and visitors often express their feelings of attraction for the mountains, valleys and communities of the area. Some speak of the serenity and community of the region, or the multiplicity of life forms; some call it magic. It seems that the village is in a region that gets you thinking about your values, pondering what you like, what you do, who you hang out with, what you see and think about as you cruise around in daily life or on special trips, rides or hikes. The place holds up an invisible mirror that gets you thinking about what really matters. 

In 2020, a triple whammy of intense politics, pandemic, and climate change put the reflection process on steroids. Nationwide, the incoming federal administration brings a chance to de-escalate political divisions, move to truly effective coronavirus responses and deepen our responses to climate change. We can restore healthier social and work lives, and more of us will stay alive. 

To help with renewal in 2021, I suggest listening for, and using, verbs that begin with RE-, a prefix meaning to do again, to redo, though not necessarily in the exact same way. Solutions to the triple whammy of mega-problems demand innovation and creativity outside the box, not just automatic restoration of the Old Normal for its own sake and cozy familiarity. 

Some familiar RE-verbs for getting out of the box include: reimagine, reexamine, reinvent, redraw, and rewrite. In the workplace, new kinds of jobs are emerging, like solar installer, stream restoration specialist, or cybersecurity team coordinator and some of them will require retraining. As we enter 2021, it’s a perfect season to reflect and find ways to use our hearts, eyes and brains to reevaluate, redefine and otherwise renew and regrow. 

At home, we can repair and remodel, by redesigning, repainting, rewiring, replumbing, recarpeting and relandscaping. Homeowners might find it a good time to refinance. Even rearranging pictures on the wall or items on shelves and in drawers can be refreshing, especially in a time of pandemic confinement. 

In daily life, we can repattern our energy and materials habits by adopting ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose things. Decluttering at home can revitalize our connection to our stuff. 

For the evolution of our personal understanding and values, we can slow up a bit, spend a little time in stillness, darkness, and silence to help us recenter and reinvigorate ourselves. Looking in the invisible mirror, we can find multiple ways to reconnect with our inner selves and with the living systems which sustain and re-energize us in so many ways. Our melting pot nation has lasting need for reintegration of races, cultures and groups who are unlike our own group. Reintroducing civility, redefining policing, and restrengthening civil rights legislation – all are part of eliminating systemic racism from our nation. Reopening the national discussion about tribal and colonial history in North America is part of “truth and reconciliation” work toward healing the enduring cultural wounds and injustices of past colonization, slavery and genocide. Reconfiguring immigration and border policies is another facet of pursuing justice, as is reintegration with equal opportunity for groups marginalized and discriminated against for reasons of ancestry, disability, faith, or gender identification. 

When the discussion shifts to human-caused climate change, an emerging RE-verb is re-wilding, enlarging upon the practice of reforesting. The surprisingly rapid return of both plants and animals to the abandoned (and radioactive) Ukranian village of Chernobyl after the violent meltdown of its nuclear powerplant in 1986 is one of many examples of nature’s readiness to re-inhabit what humans had taken for themselves. Remediation of environmental damage and restoration of habitat for non-human species – especially those nearing extinction – is just the kind of regenerative redevelopment we now must do to large portions of over-developed lands and over-fished waters in order to reverse the elimination of species that accelerates the Sixth Mass Extinction. In response to climate change, our way of thinking about the basic purposes of business need to be creatively redefined. The impact of any commercial or industrial proposal can be reevaluated beyond its bottom-line profitability to understand business impacts systemically, always embedded in communities and living systems. 

It’s becoming clear that for long-term survival, our value system must eliminate the equation of wealth with success. This will allow repositioning people and planet above profit, privilege and growth for its own sake. Happy Renew Year to all!