The Soapbox: This new year, let's all resolve to learn

Justin Crann
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We can learn a lot from the hubris that undid Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” — Brandon Mull

The sun will soon be set on 2012, and so it seems fitting to reflect upon the happenings of the past year and what aftermath we can expect from them.

It has been a busy year for those of us milling away on this great Earth. In the past year we have seen feats once thought to be the stuff solely of imagination and dreams, and we have also seen a fair share of the nightmarish and grotesque.

And while, as a relatively new, somewhat young journalist, I might be tempted to proclaim 2012 the newsiest year of the past decade, I will spare everybody the hyperbole and stick to the simple truth: this past year has been an eventful one, and one filled with worthwhile lessons for those with the patience to learn.

For the sake of space, I can’t list every major news story of the past year, but I can mention those that stood out to me.

The nice thing about weighing the news — but also one of the greatest challenges — is that the reading of it is largely subjective, and therefore deciding what stories are important is entirely up to the reader.

The running aground and partial sinking of the Costa Concordia; the return of active conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in the Gaza Strip (and the use of social media to fuel that conflict and promote the parties’s respective arguments); the 2012 United States presidential election; space shuttle Endeavour’s piggyback trip to California; Felix Baumgartner’s fantastic leap from the edge of space; Lance Armstrong’s doping saga; the invention of a virtual brain; and a violent school shooting that has reignited the debate over guns in the United States — these are the news stories that stood out for me, and the stories from which I have learned the most notable lessons of the year.

In the wrecking of the Costa Concordia, the reignition of conflict in Gaza, and the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., humanity has seen all of our race’s worst qualities: cowardice, a tendency toward violence, a lack of empathy, and the consequences of a society fixated on war and violence.

But we have also seen the bright side of humanity — in particular in response to the Newtown shooting, but as a general response to the violence and major losses of this past year — in the form of charitable donations, relief efforts and humanitarian missions.

In Baumgartner’s freefall, the invention of an artificial brain and the retirement of the Endeavour, we have seen the end of one scientific era and the beginning of another — and the potential that humankind is able to achieve if we work co-operatively.

Meanwhile, the manner in which Lance Armstrong handled charges of doping and Mitt Romney handled his presidential campaign have taught us lessons in the consequences of hubris, and the importance of humility in the public sphere.

But both cases have also taught us of our tendency to idolize individuals not worth idolatry, as did the scandal surrounding former Gen. David Petraeus.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned through the mistakes and triumphs of others — not just those that I have specifically mentioned.

In the past 12 months, we have seen many great and terrible feats. We will see many more in the years to come. And it is from those achievements that we should shape our hopes and learn to identify our own faults.

For the new year, let us all make a resolution. Let’s resolve to learn. And we can start by learning from the successes and shortcomings of others.

Geographic location: California, Gaza Strip, United States Newtown, Conn.

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