We’ve reached it. The final day of 2016, the day on which we can put this year to rest and, for many of us for many good reasons, say “good riddance!” Yet, without this year, we would not have reached the cusp of another one. Without this year’s heartaches and misfortunes and grievous adversity—hallmarks of 2016—we might not have realized the gravity of circumstance. We might not have come to grips with the powerlessness with which we have faced the world’s woes, nor the potential power we can wield if enough of us opt to use it.

We’ve made horrendous mistakes, as a species, this year. We’ve allowed ourselves to be manipulated, swindled, and taken for fools. We’ve stood idly by as the social order—not just in the USA but globally—has unraveled.  But we can take comfort in the fact that we’ve been given the opportunity to learn lessons from the experiences of 2016; but only if we assert our collective wills to prevent a further disintegration of the links that bind us together. By this I do not mean accepting the horrors of a Trump presidency and “coming together” behind the wave of misogyny and racism and sexism and xenophobia that sent him to the White House. I mean we must join together in pursuit of the highest ideals that his ascendency to the highest office in the land has endangered.

I look at 2016 as a lesson. A lesson in what can happen when we allow ourselves to focus on what splits us apart. A lesson in what can happen when we refuse to accept that half the population is experiencing pain or frustration we are unwilling to understand or even acknowledge as legitimate. We spent the entire year in the USA in a rage brought about by one man’s psychotic rants that, somehow, touched a nerve with almost half the voting public. Much of the rest of the world wrestled with open wounds whose symptoms looked much like those we felt. We witnessed a global backlash against troubles brought on by inadequate responses to the horrors and dislocations of war and the realities of changing populations. As much as I remain convinced that many of the reactions to immigration and job losses and terrorism were and are based in bigotry and its cousin, fear, I think the absence of our own dedicated and effective voices of reason and reconciliation led to the divides we now are facing.

In the year ahead, it would behoove us to speak loudly and with conviction when we see actions that run counter to our principles. Yet if we scream foul at the new administration’s every utterance, others will perceive us the same way we perceive Trump: as obnoxious, uninformed crybabies who just want attention and who want things our way. Rather than focus on the harm Trump’s utterances to date, if transformed into actions, might do, I believe we ought to work to counter his potential bad acts by performing our own good ones. If we focus our attention on taking positive steps instead of negative reaction to his acts, we’ll be more effective. That is not to say we should be silent; we should not. But we should focus our energies on accomplishments rather than obstruction, whenever possible.

Obviously, my comments apply primarily to those of us in the USA. But the philosophies behind them apply globally. These are my thoughts about 2016. They seem more focused on the future than on the past; that, I think, is another lesson to take to the memory bank. I hope my words here are preludes to my thoughts and actions in 2017. And I hope they are preludes to yours, as well.  Good riddance to 2016, but thanks for the painful lessons you taught us. Now, we’ll march into 2017 and see if we learned them.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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