As Americans approach the end of a troubling year, it is evident to this writer that we are living in a time of upheaval and disarray. The liberal world order founded in the aftermath of the Second World War is being questioned, and traditional politics threatened by populism. There are more refugees currently than in any other point in human history. War and conflict wage around the world, threatening the most at risk among us.
During these trying times for humanity, our deep divisions have been exacerbated in 2017. Issues of race, class, gender and equity have seemingly overcome what Abraham Lincoln once referred to as the “better angels of our nature.” Martin Luther King, Jr. famously proclaimed that “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” Does it still? Frankly, many don’t believe so, and, when it seems that every day we hear that another unarmed black man has been shot by a police officer, or that a man in a position of power has sexually assaulted or harassed a woman (or women), that is quite understandable. That isn’t even considering the fact that the current President of the United States is making a mockery of the most respected public office in the entire world.
In thinking about the broader challenges we collectively face at the current moment, I recently re-read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” There’s a passage from King’s letter that reads “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” That was true then, and it’s still true now. It also prompted me to think about how truly interconnected we all are: I may or may not know you, but I become stronger when you are successful, and vice versa. Although it is hard to see sometimes, society is built that way through a ripple effect.
There is no question that tribalism is the mode of the day, and that it has extended far deeper than politics. With social media, it is incredibly easy to wall oneself off from others, to find reasons not to like somebody without even speaking with them, or to reinforce one’s own opinions without even considering an alternative one. Just like it can be difficult to forgive someone for hurting you, it can be equally uncomfortable to engage with unfamiliar people and opinions. We can see how this has played out on college campuses, our communities, and even in our own lives.
There is a solution to this problem, however, and one that we should all strive to push this holiday season: promoting decency toward one another, in all respects. I think we each know somewhere what that means individually. But on a day-to-day basis, talk to someone you haven’t before. Share a meal with people you haven’t had the opportunity to yet, make time for people you care about, let your friends and family know how much they mean to you. Give back however you can, whether that be through volunteering, donating what you can, or in your own way. Forgive others for pain they may have caused you. Support your friends, colleagues, and peers around you – even if you don’t know them personally. Doing all these things is how we rebuild an inclusive, respectful, and socially dynamic society.
The world lost its way within the past year, due to a combination of dynamics. But, this holiday season and beyond, promote decency. If you aren’t the change you want to see in the world, then who will be?