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.