We have 20/20 vision all wrong

Colorful spiral

As the year 2020 approaches, I anticipate being barraged with references to 20/20 vision. It’s inevitable. We long to see into the future, to make sense of what’s ahead, to know what the future holds. We even refer to 20/20 hindsight when looking back on a situation we wish we had seen more clearly going in.

Ironically, although 20/20 vision has long been a metaphor for foresight, perfect vision, and clarity, in reality, 20/20 vision means your vision is normal. According to the American Optometric Association, if you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance. Nothing perfect or extraordinary about it. Just normal.

Even more challenging with this 20/20 metaphor is the reality that only three countries in the world, Burma, Liberia, and the United States still use Imperial units rather than the metric system. Therefore, in only those places is 20/20 vision even a thing. In countries that use the metric system, normal vision is 6/6, meaning you can see clearly at 6 meters what should normal be seen at the distance of 6 meters. Six meters, interesting enough, converts to 19.68 feet.

20/20 and 6/6 Vision

So, all these years we’ve been duped. In 20/20 hindsight, we need to look to 1968 for guidance about the future. 1968 was the year:

  • the Tet offensive in Vietnam ignited US public opposition to the war and, ultimately, led President Lyndon Johnson to announce an end to all bombing in North Vietnam;
  • the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN;
  • Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in San Francisco on the eve of California Presidential primary;
  • Republicans nominated Richard M. Nixon as their candidate for president;
  • protestors were attacked by police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and
  • feminists protested at the Miss America Beauty Pageant in Atlantic City and the moniker “bra-burning feminists” came into public vernacular.

Growing up in a town where overt racism was practiced as an art form, I (shamefully, now) admit I didn’t mourn the death of Martin Luther King. I remember saying to a friend I didn’t really like him all that much. I thought he was too dramatic or something like that. I knew about the civil rights struggle and I thought discrimination was wrong, but, at thirteen years old in a racist Southern town, I didn’t recognize or appreciate the role that King played in it. I didn’t understand how his death changed the course of history and how his life would influence generations to come, long after 2020.

I did mourn Bobby Kennedy’s death. I cut out every newspaper article I could find about him and arranged them in a scrapbook, one I kept for years. I watched every TV news story I could find about Bobby. I obsessed over how a young, vibrant (white) man could be cut down just for standing up for what he believed in.

When Dion’s song Abraham, Martin, and John (written by Dick Holler) hit the airwaves in late 1968, I rushed down to our local record store to buy it. John Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, when I was only eight, awakened me to the realities of how one hate-filled person could devastate the world. 1968 was the year this happened not once, but twice.

And I have to admit, my views toward Martin Luther King transformed with that song. I played it over and over again until I understood that, just like the Catholic martyrs who I was learning about in catechism class in my Catholic grade school, these men were martyrs in our time. I began to think about what I stood for and what I would die for, and the seeds of my own commitment to activism were planted.

I don’t remember when I first heard about bra-burning feminists but I’m sure it must also have been in 1968. Watching the Miss America pageant on TV was standard fare in our household so when the news reported that women had protested it, I would have paid attention. Years later, in my first Internet chat room on CompuServe, a room for lesbians-only, I got to know Lindsay Van Gelder, the reporter who first wrote about burning bras. Although the 1968 event was planned to burn girdles, bras, and other restrictive undies, the fire chief refused to give them a permit so no bras were ever burned in Atlantic City. Still, Van Gelder wrote an article for the Post that compared the women protestors with men who were burning their draft cards and, as a result, “bra-burning” became the most iconic symbol of the feminist movement.

So here we are in 2018, two years before we reach 2020, and like in 1968, protests have become a way of life in the US and beyond, a presidency most compared to Richard Nixon’s plays out in Washington, and feminists are, once again, filling the streets demanding equality, this time with pink pussyhats – not a far cry from bra-burning.

The spiral of progress forces us to see with fresh eyes all that we accomplished and all we left undone

There is much left undone.

1968 was a tumultuous year. 2020, the next US presidential election year, can be nothing less. I know it will be for me personally. It’s the year:

  • I turn 65 and, officially, become an elder (at least as far as Medicare is concerned);
  • Wendy and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary;
  • I’m past the period of most likely recurrence of the Stage 1 endometrial cancer I was diagnosed with January 15, 2018;
  • I have a successful location-independent online business;
  • we buy a used Class B RV; and
  • we take our new RV on an extended summer vacation to Nova Scotia to celebrate all of the above.

Obviously, some of the above statements are unavoidable – assuming I’m alive, I WILL turn 65 – and some are aspirational – having a successful online business. Nevertheless, they all are important markers.

So over the course of the next two years, in addition to continuing my work for equity in all its forms, I plan to track my progress toward these specific personal milestones  and share what I learn along the way. I hope you’ll come along and that you’ll find inspiration, motivation, information, and other valuable content for your own journey to 2020.

Share in the comments what you hope to accomplish by 2020. What is your most hopeful 2020 vision?