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Being thankful for 2020

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Let us start with the obvious. If you are reading this, you have made it through the year.

It may have been with some (perhaps a lot) of stress, sorrow and an empty stomach at times. But you are here. You made it.

If you lost a relative or friend to the pandemic, that is a tragedy. There has been a lot of talk recently about the pandemic death toll vs. various wars in which the U.S. has participated. To put this in perspective, though, I look at cancer deaths. In 2019, there were nearly 607,000 cancer deaths, a number that goes on year after year and which happens to be about the same as the number of lives lost in the Civil War.

Likely, you learned more about yourself this year – more than in any other year – for you have had to dig deep and think about what is important.

You have found out the world is not an endless parade of buying toys (for all ages) and charging them on credit cards. Overall, credit card debt went down this year. According to Experian, credit card debt went down by 9% – or $73 billion.

While we are using money as a measure of what happened in 2020, the Philanthropy News Digest reports 2020 donations will beat 2019.

Americans who donated less than $250 jumped 19%. Those who gave away $1,000 or more jumped 6.5%. MacKenzie Scott (Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife) gave away $6 billion, without a staff of professional donation personnel to help her as other big donors have.

So, financially, we reduced our personal debt and were more generous. Pat yourself on the back for that. You were fiscally more responsible than the politicians we all elected. They have managed to increase the national debt from $5.6 trillion in 2000 to $26.9 trillion at the end of September 2020. Not sustainable.

We used the year to determine what is important. As we dug deep into the meaning of our personal lives, I suspect there was more Bible reading, which statistics available thus far tend to show as true in all categories except daily (as in once a week, once a month, etc., are going up but not once per day).

The medical/scientific community did a great job of producing vaccines in record time. We should all thank them for this effort.

Then, regarding the rest of the year, the United States breaks into two groups: Those who minimized contact with others and those who did not.

For those who wished to communicate with others in a rapid fashion, video conferencing was a technology whose time has come. Go back just 30 years and the situation would have been entirely different.

As an example, in 1988, 32 years ago, I lived in Finland. It cost $5 per minute to call the United States. To get the news in English, you called a number in Helsinki on your landline phone and heard the headlines read by a person for which English was a second language.

Once a week there were three-day old English language newspapers in the train station in downtown Helsinki. If you had a shortwave radio, you could get the BBC.

It was a year to be Mennonite or Amish – news cycles there are about the same as they have always been. My friends there have noticed no difference.

Of course, COVID-19 was likely spread quickly by airplanes, another piece of modern technology. However, it would likely have been spread by ships in older times, just a bit slower.

I suspect learning to work at home is going to provide great long-term benefits to those who have worked in offices. Commuting times and requirements for commuting infrastructure have been drastically reduced, and I expect them to continue that way. This is going to be tough on politicians who have been on a long-term upward trajectory with these matters. It is also going to be tough on companies that own high-rise office buildings.

We just may not need any further expansion of commuting capacity or office space for a long time.

Additionally, big cities may become obsolete. I think that would be a good thing. Most of our social ills and much of our political corruption comes from big cities.

All in all, it was not a bad year. Different? Yes. But that was probably collectively good for us.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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