2016 hasn’t been the best of years, has it?
At least for those within the same socio-economic-political bubble as me, 2016 has brought blow after depressing blow of bad news. Each time we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. It began to feel like 2016 was doing it on purpose.
Well, I for one have decided not to let 2016 depress me. Allow me to share with you a few thoughts that have brought me out of the pit of despair, into the enlightening conclusion that 2016 probably wasn’t the worst year in history, after all.
There has undoubtedly been a spookily high number of celebrity deaths this year. Bowie, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Ronnie Corbett, Liz Smith, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood, Paul Daniels, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan…the list goes on. It’s been incredibly sad to lose so many of our heroes and icons in such a short space of time – it really does feel like the greatness in the world has been significantly diminished in the last twelve months. Writing that list has made me sad again!
But here’s a thought: whilst remembering and grieving those we’ve lost, could we also harness some of this emotional energy into truly appreciating all the great artists, entertainers and sportspeople who are still alive? Think of all the celebrities who managed to survive 2016…there’s actually quite a few when you think about it! That’s not to mention the people we actually know, love and interact with on a regular basis who are still going strong. Life is short and precious… let’s grab it by the horns and embrace the days we have left! Carpe diem and all that!
Brexit and Trump
If someone had tried to tell me this time last year that in 2016, Britain would vote to leave the European Union and America would elect Donald J. Trump as their next president, I’d have assumed they’d had one too many New Year cocktails.
No-one saw Brexit coming. And most people I know saw Trump as a hilariously offensive distraction, kind of like Ali G… a caricature to laugh disbelievingly at but never for a minute take seriously. Most of us still didn’t take him seriously after Brexit, although there was a growing unease that maybe not everyone in the world thought the same as us. Then on the morning of Nov 9th that final realisation hit us like a freight train – we were wrong. There are an awful lot of people out there who we don’t understand at all, and whom we are now going to be forced to listen to.
But what if that’s a good thing? If the ‘leave’ campaign had failed in Britain and Hillary had won in the US just like we all expected, then we would have merrily carried on as we were, largely unaware of (or deliberately turning a blind eye to) the discontent rumbling amongst a very significant proportion of our respective populations. Whatever problems in society these political developments have highlighted were clearly there already. What if letting these people have a voice could actually take us forward in addressing some of the societal issues that we have previously ignored?
Also, can you remember the last time people, particularly young people, were this interested in politics? If longterm disillusionment and disengagement with the ‘political elite’ has culminated in Brexit and Trump, perhaps Brexit and Trump will be the wake up call that will finally get us off our backsides and motivate us to start changing the world in our own little ways.
The really bad stuff
Most of us would probably agree that even Brexit and Trump have been eclipsed by the dreadful news of war and terrorism this year. The terrorist attacks in the West have been truly horrific and utterly terrifying, but the number of those affected by these attacks pales into insignificance when compared to the horror and scale of the Syrian war and the refugee crisis, not to mention the other various conflicts and natural disasters. The human suffering we’ve seen on the news this year has been overwhelming, and it can leave us feeling helplessness and despair in the face of the sheer scale of it all.
Terrorism is terrifying, that’s the point of it, but I have found it incredibly helpful to realise that it is not new. Terrorist attacks have happened fairly regularly around the world for a few decades now, and although it seems like it’s been far worse this year, on a global scale it actually hasn’t. If we believe the false narrative that the threat is forever imminent and deadly, then the terrorist attacks are having their designed effect.
As for the war and other causes of suffering on a vast scale, there are no words to make them less tragic and horrifying. But war and suffering were not introduced in 2016. It feels like everything is getting worse, but it’s actually really not. The world as a whole is safer, more peaceful and more prosperous than it’s ever been. As far as human history goes, 2016 was a really, really great time to be alive. So while it’s important to be outraged and moved to act in aid of those in need, we needn’t feel that everything is spiralling downwards headlong into Armageddon.
News vs. reality
The news assaults us wherever we go these days. I really don’t think we would feel this gloomy about 2016 if, like our grandparents’ generation, we listened to the wireless or read the morning paper over breakfast, then spent the rest of the day concentrating on our own lives. When we read headlines every few minutes in news feeds and on TV screens, of course we become anxious and deeply affected by the stories, and they feel oppressive and urgent in our own lives even if they are happening on the other side of the world. In reality, our own lives are probably not all that bad.
So as I bid farewell to 2016, I’m feeling pretty hopeful, actually. Perspective is a wonderful, wonderful thing!
Here’s to a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year to you all – may you be filled with hope for 2017!