What did you learn in 2022?

I learned a lot this past year. In particular, I learned a lot about power. There were some very good uses of power, some notably bad uses of power (as always), and there were even new forms of power on display.

So, here’s my rundown of the year in power.

The Power of Principles

Topping my list this year was the Power of Principles: people risking life and livelihood for the greater good. Most power misuse is the opposite: allowing your power to corrupt your principles. We see plenty of that every day.

But we don’t often see people in power standing up for their principles.

There are several standouts in this category, starting with the citizens of Ukraine. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Ukrainian people heroically resisted the Russian occupation, standing for their sovereignty and enduring great sacrifice and loss of life.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s courage and commitment to his people and country was a tremendous display of principle.

He stayed and fought (famously exemplified in his response to the US’s offer to airlift him out of Ukraine, “I need ammunition, I don’t need a ride”), risking assassination because he believed that “courage is contagious.”

Another notable example of the power of principles this year are the brave young Iranian women protesting their country’s suppression of women’s rights and freedom.

Even though the Iranian government restricted social media and implemented an internet blackout, videos of women cutting their hair, burning head scarves, and even young girls protesting in school circulated worldwide, galvanizing widespread support.

This year we also witnessed a rare instance of someone sacrificing their own power for their principles.

US Republican Representative, Liz Cheney from Wyoming did just that. In a few days, she will be the former Republican Representative because she deliberately and willingly lost her bid for reelection by breaking with her party over its support of Donald Trump.

She was only one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump, but her real ‘crime’ was serving as vice chairwoman on the Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the Capitol—one of only two Republicans to participate in the committee.

She didn’t just serve on the committee, but also made it her personal cause to ensure that Trump would be held responsible for his actions and to see to it that he never served in office again.

Knowing she was going to lose in the Republican primary, she told voters to “vote for somebody else” if they wanted a politician who would violate their oath of office.

Politics aside, Liz Cheney’s actions demonstrated something extremely difficult: breaking ranks with those closest to you.

While standing up against “them,” the enemy or opponent, demonstrates bravery, taking a principled stand against your own tribe—against those with whom you most identify and from whom you derive a sense of belonging—is a rare and extreme example of the positive power of standing for your principles.

The Power of a Platform

If the Power of Principle includes some notably positive examples, this next type of power, the Power of a Platform, sadly, displayed some of the very worst uses of power over the past year.

Whether people listen to your podcast, follow you on Twitter, subscribe to your YouTube channel, or follow you on TikTok or Instagram, having a platform means that your words, recommendations, and actions are amplified in their importance.

Yet with great power comes great responsibility.  

And unfortunately, we haven’t that sense of responsibility on display. In fact, just the opposite. In 2022, people irresponsibly used their platforms to spread misinformation, promote hate speech, and fuel baseless conspiracies.
We also saw hawking scams—ranging from Hustleversity to Bitcoin—and miracle supplements and fitness regimes promoting unrealistic, idealized body images that millions of impressionable young women and men strived to attain through self-harm, whether steroid use or starvation..

Platforms have turned incivility into a spectator sport. People now flock to their favorite platforms, in the way that people used to go to the town square for public floggings, to see who is being dunked on or owned on Twitter.

On one side of the platform is the role model, influencer, or public figure and on the other side is the mob, ready to do their bidding, buy their product, blindly follow their advice, and viciously attack their opponents.

This should be a sobering wake-up call about the outsized and dangerous power that platforms—especially online platforms—can provide for those who do not know how or are unwilling to use this power for good.

The Power of Science

Science has taken a beating over the past number of years, thanks in part to the above, the Power of Platform, where anyone and everyone could “do their own research,” promote their own miracle Covid cures, and debate and debunk scientific evidence.

But 2022 saw science flex its mighty muscles. It’s been a year of huge discoveries and breakthroughs. Some notable standouts:

  • The mind-boggling photos from the James Webb Space Telescope peering into the beginnings of the universe
  • AI and machine learning tools that mirror human creativity such as image-generating apps that can turn text into illustrations and language models that can answer complex questions, write essays or short stories in the style of a specific writer or genre and create original song lyrics
  • A promising vaccine for malaria was discovered this year at Oxford University, which could bring us one step closer to ending one of the planet’s leading causes of child mortality
  • A few big wins for climate science, including the rise in renewable energy sources resulting in lower than expected carbon emissions; a milestone agreement among almost 200 countries to protect biodiversity and stop the destruction of vital ecosystems; soaring electric vehicles sales; and a new law being worked out in Europe to stop the sale of goods that contribute to deforestation and forest degradation in the EU and elsewhere in the world.
  • Another big step towards clean energy was the landmark achievement of fusion ignition earlier this month at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, a long-sought first step on the way to achieving near-limitless clean energy
  • NASA launched its Double-Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), successfully crashing a spacecraft on an asteroid to change its trajectory, providing a potential means to divert an asteroid or comet that poses the danger of colliding with earth in the future

The Power of a Person

The biggest takeaway for me in 2022 was the Power of the Person.

Millions of us used our power for good. We took in refugees, took to the streets to protest for our rights, stood up against bullying, used our clout on behalf of someone else, created a positive and welcoming workplace culture, used our platform responsibly, and spoke out against wrongdoing.

And people used their position of power for good by teaching, counseling, supporting, managing, coaching, parenting, and guiding others to be better versions of themselves.

My hope for 2023: Let us not minimize or overlook the small yet significant ways we improve the world around us, using our power positively in our day-to-day lives, and not underestimating the sphere of influence we all wield, no matter how tiny.

Thanks for reading, and wishing you all the very best for 2023.