I’m awake way too early on New Years Eve, so I decided to spend the time contemplating the end of this year and the beginning of the next. Because that’s what people do, right? Shortly to be followed by angst-ridden resolutions and the fear of failure in living up to our own meager expectations of willpower. So, let’s not.
2017 was a dumpster fire of a year politically, climatologically, culturally, and yet, not everything was horrible. While 45 was setting the United States back fifty, nay, one hundred years in advancement in some areas, other humans were working their butts off for their fellow humans. There are the wonderful compilation videos of 2017’s best news bloopers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD3DjN7i1Fg), but that’s not what I’m talking about (though those ARE funny). I’m talking scientific breakthroughs in water production or how we managed to make the first edit on a human embryo’s genome which will allow us to edit out disease before implantation. Or, going the other direction, scientists are one step closer to being able to effectively treat some forms of paralysis which brings hope to so many people who struggle in their daily lives in a world not suited to those differently-abled.
But for all the stunning new discoveries in science, the one thing they haven’t figured out is why humans are so terrible to each other so consistently. Every time I opened an internet browser this year, I was besieged by stories of another mass shooting, of another racially/gender/sexuality-based crime; of another march against the injustice of living while POC/female/immigrant/poor/sick. God forbid you are any combination of the afore-mentioned as it is nearly impossible for you to pull yourself up by your second-hand bootstraps. If you even have boots. And all the cis-het-white-males of the world get their panties in a bunch at the phrase white privilege, so maybe we should restyle it as white advantage and rebrand it as just that, an advantage on the game of life that allows us to have the luxury of making a difference. Our advantage is in being heard, in having weight and influence, and it should be used to help lift up our fellow human. Our worth as humans lies not in what we manage to acquire for ourselves but in how we treat and help our brethren with the losing tickets in life.
In response to this madness, I choose to take advice from Mr. Rogers: Look for the helpers. The heirs to fortunes who speak out against tax policy that would be greatly beneficial for them, but ruin the rest of the country. People turning out in record-breaking numbers to show their dissatisfaction of the government. And the few politicians standing up for the well-being of the entire American population, despite being verbally attacked and forced out of hearings whenever possible. (I’m pretty sure Senator Warren is fueled by the insensate screams of her opponents.)
With all of this weighing on our hearts as we head into the new year, it can be daunting to try and feel hope and optimism that things will be better. I’m not going to make false promises to you about the direction of politics or how the only direction is up. There are too many competing factors to even begin to make those sorts of observations. The only thing that is true is that at this time tomorrow the number on the calendar will have changed and its up to us to find our place in the dystopic America we are now mired in. Here’s what I can say, though:
It’s time to stop looking for the helper and instead become a helper yourself. You don’t need to become a national politician or an award-winning writer with death-threats from the conservative elite to make a difference. That’s where most people come up short, terrified of failing, certain there is no difference they can make in the world because they aren’t big enough. So start small.
First, you have to decide which issue you want to focus on. You can’t focus on them all, it’s too much pain, too much suffering, and you’ll become overwhelmed by it all and paralyzed into submission. So do you care about women’s issues? Or the struggles of POC in our country? Or the homeless epidemic? Or the opioid crisis? Pick one thing that you can connect with on a personal level and latch on. Now, pick a small way to make a difference. Maybe it’s a five dollar donation. If you can’t afford the money (let’s be honest, a lot of us in this country have empty pockets right now) what about an hour of your time? Can you help the local homeless shelter by volunteering one hour to clean the bunk room? Can you spend one afternoon tutoring kids at a local free educational center? Can you take ten short minutes to email your political representatives to express your concern for a particular subject in your area? Pick just one, do it tomorrow, while the sun comes up on a new number because nothing in this world will have magically changed for the better. We have to be the change we want to see, even if it’s one tiny step at a time, so small we think it’s insignificant. You never know where that one step will take you, or how grateful people will be when you take a step towards them and hold out your hand. So start the new year right, not with hope, but determination and resolve.