According to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, we are ending the Year of the Rabbit and 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon.
First, let's take a look back at 2011. This was supposed to be a peaceful year, placid and calm.
While we remember some of the dramatic moments from Arab spring, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, and the liberation of Libya and overthrow of Gadhafi -- they became more significant because of they ended with hope. For many, the killing of Osama bin Laden also represented a type of closure.
Locally, the year was filled with drama and trauma, from high school students tragically killed in car accidents to infant murders. But we move on. Perhaps in the spirit of the Year of the Rabbit, we engaged our emotional survival mechanisms.
During rabbit years, we didn't expect major changes and that's exactly what we got from politicians in both California and Washington, D.C. Partisanship still reigned, a type of malaise swept our decisionmakers; they put off disagreeable tasks. Despite the rhetoric, the old can was still kicked down the road.
In 2011, we continued a year of sacrifice, especially with continued high rates of unemployment and poverty here in our Valley. Many managed to persevere despite the economies of Europe and its impact on our own 401(k) valuations. The Year of the Rabbit required us to ignore distasteful realities. After all, what other coping mechanism do those who are struggling have?
Don't confuse serene landscape as joyous as we hunkered down to basics. Witness the Occupy Movement nationally and in Fresno along with the Wisconsin protests. Anger and frustration played out politically and socially. We then engaged a new debate concerning those left out versus the privileged.
Yet we were forced to cope with continued concessions. Local educational institutions from K-12 to higher education reeled with budget issues. They understood the constraints and restraint.
People forged through, especially with natural disasters. The Japanese tsunami, Arizona wildfires, tornadoes, floods, the Texas drought. Locally, our catastrophes were confined; none made national news and I suppose we should take comfort in that.
Rabbits are lucky, and there were signs of fun in 2011. The Royal Wedding, Lady Gaga, and locally, the success of the Fresno Fair, iPad 2 and the genius of Apple which recognized the connection between function and fun. Also fun: the Republican presidential nomination race where everyone has their 15 minutes of fame.
And sports continued to provide a necessary distraction as we avoided confrontation with the harsh economic realities of the past year. The Japanese women's soccer team and an unexpected World Cup victory, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Mavericks, and the underdog St. Louis Cardinals who squeezed into the playoffs and then won and won. (Not quite so fun for Fresno State football.) But great fun for the Mendota Aztecs. And a hopeful fun note: the rabbit pace of the slow and deliberate San Francisco 49ers -- a metaphor for us all?
What does 2012 and the Year of the Dragon have in store for us? Anticipate a wild year.
Dragons are driven by ambition. Leaders may adopt a new mantra: passion and self-assurance. In all of California, redrawn election districts will result in new races. Our Valley will generate its share of political drama. Those adaptable will find success.
Uninhibited dragon egos create a slightly different politician: They work alone in light of the stagnation of the political system. This may become a winning strategy, considering the extremely low approval ratings for elected officials. In one poll, Paris Hilton was more popular than most politicians and Americans thought communism would be as effective as Congress in dealing with our nation's problems.
Don't expect a spirit of collaboration. Locally, I suspect lots of talk about working together but little action. Why? Leaders don't have resources. With calls for a limited government, unified politics will be in short supply. Independent dragons will do what they want.
This may be a model for all of us during another year of economic uncertainty. We need to look for fearless behavior and forge forward. Don't look for success from the timid and cautious. Good fortune comes only with intensity.
I look for a big event to turn things. Many will claim World War II was the turning point for the Great Depression. What will it be for the Great Recession? A big idea on a grand scale. It may not be political. It may be regional or local. And it may not be an original idea but, in the spirit of the late Steve Jobs, a "tweaking" of a good idea, making it great (remember, he borrowed the idea for a mouse from Xerox).
For example, agriculture is weathering this recession much better than other industries. Is 2012 the year for a major recapitalization in our Valley -- not just with money but with human and social capital? Imagine during challenging times, reinventing the face of farming so in the future, issues like food safety are handled completely differently?
After years of struggle, we may be headed toward a culture of self-sufficiency as dragons make their own rules. Innovation rules, quick fixes rewarded even at the cost of long-term fixes. Winning may be simply making it through another year, the new mantra for numerous institutions such as school districts.
Will this be the year of the conceited? Extreme ambition rewarded? Flamboyant and uninhibited leadership sought -- part of grand scale thinking that's required as we rise from the depression of 2011.
Dragons take high risks, but make smart decisions, they evaluate before striking. Yet they have emotional outbursts, perhaps that's the passion behind both the tea party and Occupy movements. This will not be the year for the meek and silent.
So our mantra for the coming year may be "Fire, ready, aim." A dangerous approach, but dragons rarely consider the feelings of others; perhaps acceptable behavior since 2013 will be the Year of the Snake, who get what they want using deception.
Were you born during a Year of the Dragon? You were if you were born in one of these years: 1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 and anyone born in 2012!
Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Send email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.