The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day can be the most enjoyable time of the year. The kids and the grand kids are still home from school and busy making the holiday memories they will cherish the rest of their lives. The decorations are still up and the gifts are still new, but the panic is gone, and mom and dad can relax and enjoy a bit of what they worked so hard to put together.
With the new year fast approaching we become reflective, or some semblance of that in our culture which moves so rapidly, skimming over the surface of the events of our time. We made a lot of history this year, but it’s hard to see clearly when it’s still so close at hand.
All too soon the hyper-connected routines of modern life will return and we will be fully engaged by latest sensations that distract us from the struggle of rolling our stones. Perhaps now, while our engines idle and our transmission is in park, we can think about what we learned this year. We’re going to need those lessons.
Partisanship divided the nation again in 2017, driven by the same old desires for power and the greed which has plagued humanity since the beginning of time. The lesson we can carry forward is this: Politics is a defective tool for informing our worldview.
We were so angry and positional this year that our moments of clarity were few, but some of us were able to see that belief can function in the brain like an addictive drug, and anything which threatens to deny us our fix can cause turmoil. Those who know this can manipulate; those who do not are vulnerable. The struggle attempts to resolve itself as a pendulum which swings between social and political extremes, and we rarely pause to consider who keeps winding that clock. We had a rare glimpse of the clock-winders in 2017, and we need to remember that going forward.
We had an opportunity this year to mature as a culture. Many who have been victimized by the powerful were themselves empowered to speak up and to speak truth to that power. The lesson we were given was that the constant parade of celebrity, pounding out the drum beat that urges us to follow, is a parade of flawed humans with clay feet. We do not have to allow these poor players who strut and fret among the pixels that rule our days and nights to lead us anywhere. They do not represent us. They do not decide our values. They are not the face of our nation, merely a poor reflection.
We would be well advised to enter the new year with this lesson: that the dramas of virtual reality and our unexamined beliefs do not always, or often, represent what is real and true in this world.
Going forward, it would behoove us to remember this also: When anyone, no matter how “trusted” the source may be, begins a conversation with “The liberals” or “the conservatives,” are this or that, the quality of the thought which produces that statement is as flawed as the thinking which produces generalizations that begin with “the blacks,” or “the Jews” or “the Auburn fans.” Despite our scientific achievements and technological savvy, we have allowed the polluted river of prejudice to escape its traditional boundaries of race and class and national origin and flood the political landscape as well, demonstrating a level of cultural maturity equal to the days when left handed people were accused of witchcraft.
If we are to move forward, we must take these lessons to heart. The author, Jonathan Rauch, provides us a useful guide for the dramas that will be presented in the upcoming year: “A liberal society stands on the proposition that we should all take seriously the idea that we might be wrong. This means we must place no one, including ourselves, beyond the reach of criticism; it means that we must allow people to err, even where the error offends and upsets, as it often will.”