There’s no getting around it. Americans have just gone through an Annus Horribilis, to borrow a phrase from Queen Elizabeth. 2015 has been filled with disturbing news about acts of terrorism and the threat of more, mass shootings, racial unrest and major questions about how our criminal justice system works – or doesn’t.
Add in what many see as unsettling and contradictory political pronouncements about our future and is it any wonder that we feel frightened, frustrated and without hope? Fear – of homegrown or lone-wolf terrorists, gun violence, policy brutality, racial strife, our children’s future – has become the new American normal.
How did we get to this point and will 2016 deliver us a more positive picture? In the immortal words of baseball legend Yogi Berra, “90% of the game is half mental.” That always gets a laugh but the underlying message is so true. Our collective mindset is immensely important to what happens in the coming year.
The idea that the country is in a perpetual going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket mode has caused many of us to believe it is, irreparably, so. That is a state of mind that can be changed.
Let’s start by realizing the government cannot – and should not — fix every problem. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t have any sort of magic bullet to make sure racial tensions ease, guns are locked up safely or that every cop on the beat is going to act in a responsible and respectful manner.
Simply passing new laws or enacting more regulations won’t insure that prosecutors don’t abuse their power, defense attorneys don’t tell lies on behalf of their clients, judges make the right call from the bench or corruption in City Hall becomes a thing of the past.
What will change things is a universal shift in public attitude and expectation. We’ve got a collective, shoulder-shrugging case of, “It is what it is,” and we’ve got to shed it. That way of thinking only insures nothing will change.
Instead of instinctively wondering why no one has come up with a solution to a problem — or looking for others to blame for your troubles — it’s time to ask ourselves what we, as individuals, can do to foster change and enhance our nation as a whole.
Here’s a place to start: Realize that a majority of violent crimes are committed by young, restless, unfocused people. So, if parents and grandparents turn their full attention to raising responsible, compassionate and hardworking children we all win. If counsellors and teachers at schools and universities instill ethics, empathy and critical thinking in their students the country gets a better crop of next generation citizens.
In addition, by simply being kinder and more attentive to each other we nurture an atmosphere where someone selling drugs, stalking children or acting in a suspicious manner stands out in our community and gets reported to police. Preach that nothing was ever gained by branding someone who calls 9-11 a “snitch.” Nothing gets done if everyone looks away and thinks it is someone else’s responsibility to act.
In short – we’re all in this together. So, why, do we squabble so? When does the realization hit that by continuing today’s racial, class and political isolationism we’re only insuring more divisiveness, more unrest.
It’s up for debate as to who or what caused the nearly paralyzing schisms we’re enduring – blacks vs. whites, the justice system vs. minorities, rich vs. poor, gun-owners vs. victims of gun violence — but it’s foolish to deny they exists. Was it the constant political feuding in Washington that trickled down to the population? Perhaps it was the media’s relentless barrage of “conflict coverage” prompting us all to see a boogey man around every corner. Maybe it was negligence on our part. As we have exhaustively struggled to survive in a hostile economy did we miss what was staring us in the face?
The very fabric of America has been unraveling. Too many of us forget to be proud of our birthright as American citizens choosing, instead, to complain that things aren’t perfect. Only massively tragic events like September 11, 2001 bring us together again – and for far too short a time.
Let’s not wait for the next catastrophe to embrace what’s best for the country instead of ourselves. Let’s start doing it now – as a New Year’s present to us all.
Care more, complain less.