As Tolstoy put it in War and Peace, history is a calculus of the actions of thousands of individuals.
In that sense, we have all been making history this year. Even if for people in Melbourne it meant enduring being locked up 23 hours a day, trudging through a recession and away from the people we love. Then there was the sacrifice of doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
Some people had no obligation but reached out anyway to help those in need, like the Sikh volunteers who delivered over 138,000 free meals to health workers, the elderly and the unemployed, and even the people who just picked up the phone to ask an old friend if they were doing OK.
Like during wartime, people acted selflessly because it was for a suddenly important cause – for the greater good.
In 1993, then-PM Paul Keating gave a speech at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Canberra: “On all sides the ordinary people were the heroes of the war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.”
The archaeological discoveries at Pompeii are important because they show us the social, economic and political life of ordinary people; people who I doubt were much different to you and me.
And when the history of 2020 is written, it will be everyday people, not grandstanding point-scoring politicians, nor people who bluster loudly in the media, who will be the focus of attention.
Here in Australia, as the year ends and we take a moment to draw breath, I doubt many people are overjoyed about what lies ahead of us. But perhaps that thought might, just briefly, make us hopeful.
Duncan Fine is a lawyer and regular columnist