Annual Theme For 2019
Choosing an annual theme is always challenging. Especially following on from a huge one like 2018’s Year of Simple. Here’s how I chose this year’s annual theme.
It feels like our world is in crisis. Perhaps this is an obvious thing to say. What’s less obvious is how we got here. Part of the reason is the way we’ve expressed ourselves, for maybe a generation or more, in language that was increasingly fearful of sounding ethical or judgmental, increasingly opaque and vague about why we do things, or what we believe. At least until the world suddenly lurched to one side. And we needed to separate fact from non-fact, reality from fabrication. And suddenly truth, morality, and justice mattered again. But our voices had shrunk, and we were left shrieking into the online windstorm.
Over recent years I’ve watched my friends and colleagues, peers and mentors try to adapt to a changing world. We rode a rising tide for several years. Tech seemed to be our friend, helping us make connections and find our way. Then it got harder. We always knew that being online was a Faustian gamble, with the risk of being exploited ever-present. But as it became clear that these shiny new platforms seemed often to reward the negative more than the positive, the false became increasingly hard to separate from the true, which makes it increasingly hard to be authentic.
In private conversations we gathered, fretted, and wondered. Maybe authenticity wasn’t enough?
I’ve been wondering about the levels at which we communicate, IRL and URL (in real life and online). One way to look at it is to imagine three tiers.
At the bottom is the everyday. Think of this as the coffee you drink and the sunsets you see. Someone might hate on you for sharing those. But if they do, it says little about you and a lot about them. Outrage has no place here.
At the top is the work we’ve done: releasing a book or an album, staging an exhibition, or some other big thing. People will have a lot to say about these. Everyone has an opinion and critics have a job to do. But again, outrage often says more about the outraged than it does about the work itself. On rare occasions a work merits outrage. If the creator is a monster. Or the work will undermine society. But, are you a monster? Or have you ever managed to make something that undermines society? No? Neither have I.
At the bottom and the top, the trolls and haters reveal themselves. They are easy to identify.
But the middle – the middle is messy.
In the middle we have to explain ourselves. The middle is process, strategy, planning, organisation, false starts, changes of direction, rethinking, sleepless nights, and postponed launches.
At the bottom, no justification is necessary. It’s all so mundane. At the top, no justification is required. The work either speaks for itself or it doesn’t.
But the middle – the middle is all justifications.
In recent years we’ve been encouraged to scour and scrape through the middle for “content.” Show your process, and all that. So many in my circle, fellow travellers down the digital highway, have become gurus and hustle-merchants, opening a perpetual online window into their middle.
But the middle – the middle is a messy business.
Creating things for public consumption is one thing. But creating in public is another. Creating with the door always open to people telling you who you should be and how you should navigate your middle is ruinous. Imagine a restaurant where diners order their food, then barge into the kitchen to criticise the chefs and demand they justify every move and every ingredient.
So I started to think – what if I kept the middle private? But privacy didn’t feel like the problem. When I dream of leaving the internet, of giving up on email and social media and blogging, it isn’t because I want more privacy.
The problem was all the justification. Having to explain myself to random people all the time. What if I choose not to justify anything in the middle.
But, calling 2019 the year of no-justification felt clunky. And weird. And kind of open to vain self-importance.
So, I started to wonder what it meant to navigate the middle on your own terms. Under your own steam. Following your own map.
That takes conviction. The year of conviction. Now we’re getting somewhere. That sounds like an inspiring annual theme!
Conviction is a way of being in the world, a way of expressing yourself that’s neither shrill nor reactive. You know your path. You’re walking it. Other people are on other paths. That’s cool. You keep walking along yours.
To express yourself with conviction is to speak with confidence. From the well of your experience. From the centre of your truth. It isn’t shouty, or shrill.
In a way conviction isn’t compatible with outrage. Outrage is the vocabulary of shock and confusion. We let rage out – we out rage – because reality isn’t processed yet. But conviction has processed reality, pulled it apart and reassembled it into something that helps us navigate the world.
And make our way through the middle.
Conviction is also a moral attitude. You are convinced about the path you’re on. You’ve considered the alternatives and decided this is the best option for you.
So 2019 will be the year of conviction. Sharing less of the middle; less justification, less explanation, less advice. Thinking hard about what I believe and how that connects with the state of our world. And being oriented towards acting with, what’s the word, oh yes, conviction.