liberty-galScrew you, 2016.

This has been such a trying year for so many people. From the loss of too many celebrities and cultural icons to the rise of fake news to Russian hacking to myriad reports of police brutality to the rise in hate crimes to the horrific culmination of bitterly divisive politics with the election of Donald Trump, 2016 is a year a lot of people would like to put behind them—and fast.

But the year wasn’t been all bad. The U.S. unemployment rate is at its lowest level in a decade and jobless claims fell again this week. The Wall Street Journal reports that “[i]nitial jobless claims have now hovered below 300,000 for 95 consecutive weeks, the longest such streak since 1970.” Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met, in Cuba, in February, the first meeting between a Pope and a Russian Orthodox Patriarch in 1,000 years. The landmark UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change (aka The Paris Climate Accord) became international law. A record number of women of color were elected to the U.S. Senate. And let’s not forget that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. I mean—really—that alone should be an indication that the world isn’t coming to an end.

If the Cubs can win the World Series, anything is possible!

It’s important to focus on the positive. It’s important to be thankful for the highlights in our year, both collectively and individually. If we dwell on the negative, we can all too easily become mired in hate and loathing and fear and ignorance. If we dwell on the negative, it’s too easy to look for scapegoats, to look for someone to blame for all of this angst and anger.

History proves that scapegoating can be pretty popular with people who are looking to place blame on someone—anyone—other than themselves, as happened in Germany after World War I when Hitler and his cronies pushed the notion of Jews as back-stabbers who not only caused Germany’s loss in the war but also ruined the German economy and threatened Germany’s place in the world. But history also proves that scapegoating easily leads to disaster, as we saw in World War II when Hitler’s scapegoating led to the Holocaust.

There is much to learn from history, easy parallels we can draw between Hitler and Trump, between fascism and populism, between the world of the first half of the 1900s and the first decade and a half of the 2000s. Indeed, Ana Swanson wrote in The Washington Post that the world of today looks ominously like the world of 1917, when World War I was tearing apart countries and changing the world order. As the old trope goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

rearview-mirrorIt’s important to study history, to learn from the past so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes. If we look at 2016, we can learn some things, things that might help us make 2017 a better year—if we’re willing to learn the lessons that are there.

2016 has been full of lessons. Each of us has learned something, because this year has shown us a lot—for good or ill. We’ve learned that there are a lot of ugly people on social media whose main goal in life seems to be to harass people with differing opinions. We’ve learned that there is a lot of fake news out there—and a lot of people who fell sucker to that bullpooh. We’ve learned that listening to pundits and pollsters doesn’t really do much good, since humans act in unpredictable ways. We’ve learned that a lot of people are really angry, for any number of reasons—they’re anxious about the economy, they’re anxious about hate and intolerance, they’re tired of being politically correct, they’re tired of being marginalized. We’ve learned that celebrity sells and that politics is about popularity and not policy.

But we’ve also learned that there are a lot of good people out there doing good things. We’ve seen pizza joints open their doors to feed the homeless. We’ve seen how the power of social media can help bring people together, as it did when hundreds of people helped supply an autistic teenager with a lifetime supply of his favorite sippy cup. We’ve seen women band together to march in unity. We’ve seen an unlikely friendship blossom between a white grandmother and a black teenager—all because of an accidental text message.

There is goodness and kindness all around us.
So let’s all let go of 2016.
And look forward to 2017.

Driving on empty towards the sunLet’s take the time to learn some lessons that this past year has offered. And then let’s turn those lessons into understanding and action, finding ways to combat celebrity worship and treasure the family, friends, and neighbors who are real to us. Let’s find ways to call-out fake news when we see it, and to stop supporting sites that push propaganda. Let’s work together to strengthen our communities and build bridges between police and people of color. Let’s find ways to stop hate in its tracks, replacing it at least with tolerance if asking for love is too much. Let’s actively engage each other in meaningful, respectful dialogue about the policies and issues that concern us instead of spouting off on social media with snarky comments that do little to advance the conversation.

2016 has left a lot of people feeling hopeless and helpless.
2017 will offer each of us a chance to reclaim hope and to help wherever and whenever we can in whatever ways we can.

I resolve to do what I can to let go of 2016 and to look forward to 2017—and to the many ways, large or small, that I can make a positive difference in someone’s life. I resolve to make 2017 a year during which I do whatever I can to lift people up.

Will you join me?