Once In 1,000 Years
It's already impossible, I hear, to get a reservation for December 31,1999 at the world's hot party spots. I'm sure the media giants are making their plans too. Sixty-minute specials reviewing the history of the last thousand years. Talking heads speculating on the next thousand. Medallions, T-shirts and other collectibles.
I have to say, I'm dreading the hype. It's dismaying enough to use a thousand-year event to have drunken parties and sell trivial stuff. It's worse when you remember that the millennium is a non-event. Our calendar is arbitrary. The Chinese new year does not fall on January 1. The Persian year starts on the spring equinox. Muslims, Jews and Buddhists do not key their calendars to the year of Christ's birth, and our Greg–orian calendar, which was not defined until the year 1582, got the year of Christ's birth wrong. We're getting excited about the year 2000 basically because we have 10 fingers and toes, so we add zeroes when things hit 10, 100, and 1,000. Therefore my first reaction to the countdown is: Millennium schmillennium!
My second reaction is, Wow! What an opportunity to glance up from our humdrum lives and take a good, long look at where we've been and where we're going. What a fine thing to think and talk together with a thousand-year perspective. What a chance to see ourselves in the great sweep of history, to be humbled by the thought of all the generations that went before, and to take responsibility for the generations to come.
The more I think about it, the more I see that the opportunity here is for all of us to choose our own moments to mark the millennium – not fleeting New Year's Eves, but long moments during the years 2000 and 2001, to look backward and learn, to look forward and plan. The opportunity is to tune out the hype and bring up the wisdom of our souls.
Donella Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College and a leading sustainability advocate.
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