Sitting down at the dinner table with my family I faced an awkward conversation. It started with griping about the state of the world: America, Europe, crisis after pandemic after crash. It was a depressing start to a conversation, to say the least. The picture that was painted was one resembling the worst of the first Mad Max film, or the beginnings of Roland Emmerich’s 2012: undesirable and unnecessary.
After some thinking, I chimed into the conversation. Yes, I wasn’t going to lie, things did look bad. There were a lot of things that were beyond the scope of positivity. But after the dinner was over I stopped and asked my parents: why did they think things were so bad? Their answers were different in their wording but the general message was the same: things were changing and they were changing in a direction they didn’t like.
It’s undeniable that the world is changing. Former reality TV star Donald Trump is now President of the United States, the UK is (trying to begin the process of) leaving the European Union, Syria is falling back under the control of Bashar Al-Assad, and the Islamic State is branching out around the world, with attacks occurring everywhere from Christmas markets in Berlin to bazaars in Turkey and malls in the United States. It’s a different world, and it’s one that doesn’t have the prettiest face. By a lot of metrics, the world is sliding back into a reality eerily reminiscent of the 1930s, with fascism, racism, and neo-Nazism on the rise and tensions erupting around the world. This all came to the boiling point in 2016, a year we’re all very glad is over.
Denying that the world is facing a challenging new reality is arrogant and irresponsible. To say that everything is going to be fine and dandy is dangerously naïve. But it doesn’t warrant being pessimistic about the future.
2016 will be a year that will be long analyzed by historians of the future. We lost countless stars, from David Bowie to Prince and Carrie Fisher, we saw the worst of humanity in Aleppo, and we saw hate take precedence over love through xenophobia and racism. Needless to say, it was a year that will live in infamy.
But it doesn’t warrant despair. In the face of adversity, the worst thing one can do is curl up in a ball and refuse to believe that anything they do can change things. Even the littlest of things, from throwing your coffee cup in the recycling or telling somebody they look good today, makes a difference. It may be small and but it is not insignificant. Maya Angelou once said “people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. In the face of an uncertain future it makes all the difference to be there for one another.
As much as those around us may want to pessimistic about 2016, there were just as many reasons to be optimistic. The Colombian government signed an agreement with the FARC, ending a decades long conflict that had killed thousands. Tiger numbers around the world were on the rise for the first time in 100 years. A solar powered airplane flew across the Pacific Ocean. World hunger has reached its lowest point in 25 years. People pouring buckets of ice over their heads raised enough money to help isolate the gene that causes the disease. When you look back over the bigger events, last year wasn’t so bad.
It’s impressive how far we’ve come in the past year. The Paris Agreement has been signed, and even though there are plenty of climate change skeptics and outright deniers in high office, the ball has begun rolling towards a greener future. We’ve seen compassion in Canada, with our own Prime Minister personally greeting refugees fleeing war and utter devastation. Love him or hate him, it takes someone with genuine character to take ownership of an issue and face the fruits of their labour head-on. Even here at Acadia, our first year population has grown by 25%. New blood and new minds are being welcomed into Wolfville, a stark contrast from the previous year’s intake.
I have hope for 2017. There are elections coming up around the world where candidates are basing their campaigns on an ‘us vs. them’ message, fearmongering and hatemongering. But while there are those candidates, there are just as many promoting what makes democracy worth fighting for: peace, compassion, tolerance, justice, and love. The fight for a free and fair society isn’t an easy or bloodless one. Relationships are ruined, reputations are soured, and feelings are hurt. But if you truly believe in something worth fighting for, stand up for it.
There will always be headlines that strike fear into our hearts. There will always be those who preach hate and practice malice. There will always be those who believe that the impossible is exactly that- impossible. And yet there will always be those tiny instances of human compassion that amount to something greater. There will always be those who preach love and practice tolerance. There will always be those who believe that the impossible is exactly the opposite- possible.
Let’s not despair for 2017. Let’s go out and make it a good one.