Here's Something: This year, choose hope

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Many would agree 2016 was a most unfortunate year on the international and domestic stages.

We had a dispiriting American election, with each side failing to live up to presidential ideals.

We saw Aleppo in Syria destroyed in sick, slow motion.

We witnessed the rise of fake news, which may sound as innocuous as the National Enquirer, until you realize it’s part of a new and dangerous post-truth sort of world where people don’t trust in society’s institutions.

Brutality by and against police was both eye-opening and alarming.

And we saw innumerable ISIS terror plots, including the gruesome truck attacks in France and Germany.

All this doom and gloom penetrates Americans’ psyches. This new year, instead of playing into the fear, I’m choosing hope. And since acting locally will impact globally, here’s what I think we should all focus on in 2017 to make our communities and country stronger.

First – and this is a biggie, especially after this election cycle – we need to stop calling people names.

I’m sick of hearing liberals call conservatives bigots, homophobes and anti-immigrant. I’m sick of hearing conservatives call liberals Communists and Socialists. When we label, we stamp a scarlet letter on another’s forehead – a la Hawthorne’s much-maligned protagonist Hester Prynne – and any meaningful dialogue ceases. Labeling puts people on the defensive. Such oversimplification may help us to neatly categorize others, but it ultimately leads to fear and loathing, and limits our understanding of them.

Second, this year seek out someone with a different viewpoint.

If you’re a conservative, get to know a liberal. If you’re a liberal, go find a conservative. Thomas Friedman’s new book, “Thank You for Being Late,” observes that America is becoming similar to the divided Muslim world, in which affiliations define interpersonal relationships.

For example, a Sunni wouldn’t want his or her son to marry a Shiite, and vice versa. Friedman and others are worried that American liberals and conservatives are devolving into similar tribal splits based on political views. This is toxic to a pluralist society like ours.

Third, once we’ve stopped calling people names and found someone with a different philosophy, we should open our minds and not be offended by what others say.

If a liberal is against the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, a conservative shouldn’t react by taking their views as a personal affront. A liberal likewise shouldn’t demean a skeptic’s intelligence when they think global warming is being overblown for political purposes.

Some people are incapable of holding a political argument without it devolving into personal attacks. This is especially true on college campuses, where students themselves are seeking to limit their exposure to different viewpoints, ones they say are rooted in “hate.” After a divisive 2016 we need to regain the ability to argue without arguing in 2017.

Fourth, after we’ve started conversing with someone with a different view, we should know what we’re talking about before we opine.

Although Facebook and Twitter encourage their users to vent profusely about every topic under the sun, we’d do well in 2017 to limit our mile-wide-but-one-inch-thick reactions and instead become expert in at least one subject.

We’re all sick of hearing people parrot what they’ve heard in the media and think themselves thoroughly knowledgeable about fracking or climate change or abortion or tax policy or any number of topics. In 2017, we should master one issue. Then our opinions might mean something.

Finally, while approaching interpersonal relationships with an open mind is where we can improve our own happiness and effect real change in a divided nation, we all need to keep that same open mind about the country as a whole, especially its new leadership.

Many are rightly worried about President-elect Donald Trump, but I’m thankful he is thinking outside the box when it comes to America’s foreign and domestic challenges. President Obama has gotten himself and the country stuck in a rut.

We’re stuck when it comes to Israel (the peace process is just about dead), Russia (Putin’s show of strength has overwhelmed and belittled Obama) and China (which has gained a taste for stealing our monitoring buoys and enlarging islands in the South China Sea).

Domestically, Obama’s only notable achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is turning into the Unaffordable Care Act due to spiraling costs – specifically, a 25 percent increase for the average premium this year. A leadership change is just what the doctor ordered. And in Trump, thank goodness, we won’t get four more years of American indecision.

With so many dark clouds, it’s tough to be optimistic. But rather than bury my head in the sand of fear and dread of what’s to come, I resolve this year to hope for better days ahead.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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  • Stevoe

    John – I’m a fan of your clean & crisp writing style and welcome your voice and perspective to these pages as both a reader and colleague.

    One observation in regard to this week’s column. In the early section where you wrote, “…we need to stop calling people names” – you follow with six paragraphs railing against the social/political (counter-productive) practice of “name calling” – rightly suggesting that labels often preempt open & healthy dialogue.

    You then immediately follow with seven references to “liberals” and six references to “conservatives” in the context of how each political tribe should temper their response/reaction to the other in a set of examples.

    My issue; you used “name calling” (liberals & conservatives) in service of your argument against.

    Aside from the reality that many citizens are Independent/Un-enrolled voters – (approx. 34% here in Maine) – it feels like the simple duopoly paradigm of elephant/donkey, red/blue, right/left and “liberal”/”conservative” is core to the problem that you present – and then inadvertently perpetuated.

    From my experience, the vast majority of people I know are not 100% liberal or 100% conservative on ALL issues – but instead some ratio of various values that straddle simple political dogma.

    In my unreasonable man view – our world is too complex now for most people to fall neatly under one label or another – even if such an identity designation is for the noble purpose of being hopeful.

  • justanotherfakename

    Hi John Balentine, welcome to the editorial pages of the Forecaster. I thought your column started out fine, and the the general premise is one we’d all do well to take to heart. Those that don’t take sides now, or are even perceived to take a conservative or liberal viewpoint are summarily dismissed by many if not most, even vilified. Staying positive as you suggest is commendable, and I often find myself tuning out the news and especially comment sections now in order to do so. Then I remember that is what these hateful types want, to silence free speech in the name of ‘freedom.’ So I come back for more punishment.

    Steveo makes a valid point, many of us don’t see ourselves as liberal or conservative. And I believe the majority of us are now independent, non party affiliated. When I pointed out in the run up to the election that Hillary was disingenuous in regards her Wall Street agenda, the left ignored me. But when I pointed out that Trump has never been a champion of the working class, and doubted he would become one now; I was attacked relentlessly by a new breed of…conservatives? When I point out that I’ve voted for more Republicans in my long voting life, I’m called a liar by this new breed of…what ever they are.

    Its nearly impossible to stay positive John, when our President elect sides with Julian Assange over our intelligence agencies. When he repeatedly tweets before he thinks. It’s a bit difficult for me to see you, John, as hopeful in outlook, when you sound like you’re anti climate science. My apologies if that is not the case. I don’t think those who dis believe in global warming due to man made activities are lacking intelligence. I do think they are often ideologically driven. When 95% plus percent of climate science says one thing, and a loud minority opinion anti warming voice, that has been proven to be paid for by Exxon and ilk to express their views, drowns out the conversation, I’d be less than awake not to notice.

    I grew up in a Republican household, who believed in organic gardening, and had the best veggies you could imagine, that was in the fifties. My dad was an old school conservative, we took care of ourselves, and my folks wouldn’t recognize what the GOP has turned into. Dad was a tree huger, and yet believed in self reliance, a hand up offered not hand outs expected. So…I’ll try to stay positive and hopeful, but the POTUS elect makes it quite a challenge. All those insults will not disappear from memory with hope.

  • truther

    If you think every American is either a liberal or a conservative, that global warming is a debatable theory being hyped for political purposes, and that Trump brings a refreshing open mind to our problems, then you’re an idiot. I’m not calling John Balentine an idiot — I don’t know him — but I am suggesting that the premise of this column differs markedly from the details within.

  • David Craig

    The ACA was Obama’s only notable domestic achievement?! I guess you don’t care much about the economy. Leading us out of Bush’s Great Recession was a monumental achievement.

  • yathink2011

    You should have a talk with EA Beam about your theory and practices. He’s right above you on the same page.