By Ben Palmer
Imagine being the year 2019: it must be hard. It’s the Prince Charles-esque warm up act no-one has been waiting for. Everything has always been about 2020. I think we're pretty done with this decade, so 2019 should just move over and let us start a new, crisp and clean decade.
What is happening in 2019? There is a royal baby due, if that excites you. I’d be looking forward to the Cricket World Cup being in the UK, if only I could get my hands on some tickets. The only big event appears to be Brexit. Remain or Leave, no-one seems to be looking forward to that—or at least that’s what our polarised media wants us to believe. Even if you don’t care, you can guarantee you won’t be able to escape the Brexit furore which is bound to crescendo mid-2019.
Whereas everyone has a 2020 vision. Back in 1999, Tony Blair was making promises for 2020 to be the year when child poverty is eradicated. David Cameron had 24 election promises for 2020 and a paltry four for 2019. Theresa May has 19 for 2020 and an astonishingly big fat zero named 2019. 2020 also pledges to entail NASA’s first mission to assess the potential habitability of Mars, the Olympics, and the completion of the world’s first kilometre high building. Poor, unpromising 2019.
But why this bias? 2020 would be just another arbitrary year if we’d opted for a non-decimal system of counting, or if our starting point wasn’t based on a probably inaccurate calculation of a Jewish boy’s birth.
I can’t help but think it’s only because 2020 offers a play on words and a round number that everyone seems to have a plan for it and not 2019. Which leads me to question whether the promises were that thought-through and planned out in the first place? Or were they picked as a distant point on the horizon? Close enough to seem tangible and concrete, far enough away that those making the promises couldn’t be held accountable to them—or at least we’d forget them.
Perhaps you’re about to make your own promises to yourself in the form of New Year’s resolutions. I love resolutions. They enable me to dream about the future me. But not only do I fail to keep them, I almost always forget what they were by May or possibly June at best. Meaning my resolutions tragically mimic the political sphere.
The problem is we never reach the future; we’re eternally stuck in the present. It’s the only place on the space-time continuum we can occupy, so my sky-high dreams of the future often shift to leaden anchors weighing down my current perception of myself. I make myself plenty of rose-tinted promises of what life will be like in the middle-distant future. That job, house or spouse: close enough to seem possible, but also near enough to keep me dissatisfied in comparison to my current situation.
Pushing promises into the future also justifies the present. Tony Blair’s promise to end child poverty sounds great. But implicit within it is that between 1999 and 2020 a level of child poverty was deemed acceptable. I found the Millennium Development Goals even less palatable. Take Target 1A: ‘Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day’. In other words, in 2000 the world’s leaders agreed that in 2015 they would pat themselves on the back if half the world’s poorest still lived in absolute poverty!
But isn’t this kind of future-based justification something we are all guilty of? We, just like our politicians, make all sorts of qualifications for our present inaction: “I’ll give generously, once I’ve made my millions”, “I’ll have integrity and morals in the workplace, once I’ve backstabbed my way to the top”, and “I’ll stop smoking, when I have kids.”
Most alarmingly, we put off the biggest questions in life indefinitely. Or at least that’s what most of my conversations about them seem to suggest—“I’ll think about God, when I’m older.” If you can honestly say you’ve fully assessed whether you think God exists, the meaning of life and so on, you can stop reading now. But for the rest of us I think we have a problem.
The biggest element of the problem is rather morbid: we don’t know how long we have left to live. Normally I indefensibly presume that I have at least three score years and ten. But if I reach 70, I’ll probably have shifted the goal posts to a later date. It’s the ultimate procrastination about our ultimate destination. But if there is a God, do you really want to say, “Sorry God, I didn’t have enough time.”
Fortunately, there is a day coming up when people traditionally make resolutions to change. Can I urge you to be concrete about it? When and exactly how are you going to wrestle with the biggest questions of life? Are you going to ponder about the concepts of God you’ve randomly picked up from here and there? Or are you going to assess the historical claims of Jesus found in the bestselling and most academically critiqued book of all-time?
The evidence and arguments are all sat there waiting for those willing to decipher them. All we have to do is stop procrastinating. So far I’ve gone for stick over carrot. But just imagine for a second if in 2019 you discerned and developed informed views and opinions about life’s biggest questions. Wouldn’t it make 2019 a year worth anticipating?!