For many 2016 was a horrible year – one we can’t wait to see receding in the distance.
Some of us endured personal tragedies. Many of us witnessed societal tragedies – failures to protect the vulnerable, whether on our own doorsteps, the streets of our neighbours or in far distant lands.
For most of us, it was a year that challenged many long-held assumptions about political institutions, and about what were, until lately, perceived as common values. It was a year which shook to the core a previous faith in reason and fact prevailing over emotionalism, ignorance and greed.
To cap it all, the physical, and symbolic, loss of so many beloved and iconic personalities – more, it seemed, this year than others – made us all too conscious of our own brief span of life; reminded us of our own mortality.
But, in many ways, 2016 was a watershed year – one that establishes a dividing line between what has gone before and what must come, no matter how rocky a future we see that as being.
If our assumptions – comfortable as they were – were challenged, perhaps it was because they needed to be challenged. Perhaps only through adversity can we prove the inherent worth of our beliefs. If poisons and infections had taken root beneath the surface of our body politic, maybe it is better it was brought to light. There is no virtue in denial, after all, and diagnosis is the first step to effecting a cure.
This year two other iconic figures – the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – collaborated on a new work, The Book of Joy.
Both have spent many of their own years enduring exile and the heel of oppression, but both speak eloquently of a fundamental human wish for happiness and an endlessly surprising desire among people to help make the world a better place.
Both emphasize that change begins not through individuals taking on all the daunting, overwhelming problems of the world at once, but in doing whatever we can manage, wherever we can manage it, to be a beacon for goodness and positivity.
As we stand at the threshold of a new year, it is time to reaffirm our beliefs, underline our values, and do our best to embody them in our actions – and reactions – to whatever 2017 throws us.
The challenge is – in words frequently, if incorrectly, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi – “to be the change we want to see in the world.”
When it comes to new year’s resolutions, we could do a lot worse.