Hind Makki (Muslim blogger at Hindtrospectives): I’ve been wondering about whether it’s helpful, hopeful, or a hindrance – in terms of organizing for 2017 – to read pieces that claim 2016 wasn’t all that bad?
Galen Broaddus (atheist blogger at Across Rivers Wide): I have to be honest, I’ve only found those pieces to be exasperating. I understand the impulse to see what positive there is, but sometimes they’ve felt like gaslighting.
Hind: I understand why those articles get written, but I agree with you. It feels too Pollyanna-ish. My default, as a person of faith, is to have hope. But I am also clear-eyed and pragmatic about all the calamities that occurred in 2016 and don’t think it’s necessary to claim that it was better than it actually was, in order to face the new year and the new administration.
Andy Gill (progressive Christian blogger at Andy Gill): Galen, 100% agreed. Gaslighting is a perfect descriptor of too many of the posts I’ve read, also.
Galen: “Clear-eyed and pragmatic” — those are going to be two absolutely vital traits in 2017. Why not get some practice right now and try to look back at 2016 in the same light? The focus on all the good just feels like trying to rub soothing balm on a gaping wound: Even if it makes you feel a tiny bit less pain, it doesn’t heal the underlying wound.
Oddly, this gets to an issue that I personally struggle with as a secular humanist. I believe in striving toward justice, but it’s sometimes hard for me to be hopeful about that because at the end of the day, I don’t think there’s any transcendent being or force that’s directing us toward justice. The moral arc of the universe is being bent by us, and 2016 seemed like a year where we didn’t do all that much to bend it toward justice.
But I also know that humanists aren’t the only ones who think that we can help make the world a more just place. And that is where I start to have some hope again.
Hind: Yes, I think that humanity is responsible for the state it creates for itself – the good, the bad, the ugly. And this was an ugly year, thanks to some pretty terrible humans, but 2017 doesn’t have to be ugly, if enough people decide to work toward justice and beauty.
Andy: So, then, what is the best clear-eyed and pragmatic way to deal with and cope with all that is/was this past year…?
Galen: That is, in my opinion, the million dollar question.
Hind: Let’s acknowledge that terrible things happened and it’s OK to be sad and angry about the personal losses. When I talk about “personal losses,” I’m including all the celebrity deaths, too. For a lot of us, we felt close to the personae they showed us. For me, the loss of Muhammad Ali was personal. As for the terrible things that happened in politics, it’s OK to be angry. But I want to derive lessons from what happened, that will help keep me steady in 2017 and beyond, while still maintaining my righteous anger. Despondent paralysis is unhelpful.
Galen: I find that righteous anger, rather than just impotent rage, is very helpful. I think that anger gets unfairly diminished for its power in motivating change. It just needs to be used effectively, and it helps when it’s channeled through directed action by groups rather than through individuals.
One lesson I think we can take from 2016: Don’t take anything for granted. Not democratic norms, not long-term trends, not “the way things work.” All of that can be upended, and when it is, you need a backup plan.
Hind: So, about 2017, are we feeling apprehensive, excited, dread, fear, energized?
Andy: Lol. What Galen said.
But, for me, I feel mostly excited, and energized alongside a healthy amount of apprehension.
Hind: I’m apprehensive and energized. There’s a teaching of the Prophet Muhammad that I love and apply to this kind of situation: Trust in God, but tie up your camel. IE, go ahead and have faith that things will be fine (God will protect your camel), but also, do the work (tie up your camel, so it won’t wander away or get stolen). That’s how I feel about 2017. It’s an irascible beast, but I’ll try to do my part to not let it run wild.
Galen: That’s the kind of faith I can get behind. Have hope, but don’t sit idly by and expect it to happen for you.
Andy: Because, privileged evangelicals…
Galen: Hell, evangelical Christians are better about this than some other groups. At least they’re willing to act when they know it will gain them some influence or power. That kind of mobilization needs to be seen across other groups and coalitions.
(They’re also willing to throw away their stated principles for that influence and power BUT I DIGRESS)
Andy: Lol. This is true, to an extent. I think that PoC, allies, LGBTQ, err, everyone (pretty much) needs to leverage the shit out of this in 2017.
It’s a year of “let us not get played.” The amount I’ve learned regarding politics, and the ways of the world and the “powers” that be, was too much to process; 2016 was a year of processing and shedding the skin, while keeping some of the good, sifting.
Hind: I hope so, too, Andy. But I’m not sure they will get their acts together until it’s much too late. People already seem to be resigned. I wonder how to sustain a healthy amount of righteous anger without burning activists out and turning “regular” people off.
By the by, I do think that some faith leaders are doing it right. One of my favorite series this Advent (yes, I’m clearly an interfaith-y Muslim) was this one, started by Lutheran pastor Tuhina Verma Rasche (warning: contains profanity).
Andy: Yes. I heard a quote the other day: “Aggression correctly channeled overcomes many flaws.” What I took from that is simply to channel and gear our energy, not towards being angry or upset (which, for me, just leads to depression), but to funnel it towards action, meaningful action (e.g. relationships, communities, mentoring youth that are hurting and also unable to process the stuff we as adults can’t even process, etc.).
Hind: That’s deep, actually. Because it allows for flawed individuals to do great things, despite — or perhaps because of — their personality quirks.
Andy: Also, lemme restate what Hind said above: anger/being upset is 100% OKAY!
Galen: Above all, I think it’s vital for us to remember that none of us has to fight this fight alone. Even though I’m not actively part of a community, I see more and more people turning toward inclusive communities, and I think that’s exactly right.
So one of my resolutions this year is to try and increase my involvement with communities, and not just my own tribe’s communities.
Andy: And, yeah, that just became mine also.
Galen: If 2016 was a year of division, maybe we should make 2017 a year of solidarity.
Hind: Absolutely. 2017 should be a year of solidarity, of breaking out of our silos, of listening to others’ stories (and perhaps we may hear in them echoes of our own narratives), of shedding the fear of the Other, and of reclaiming E Pluribus Unum.
Galen: I’ll drink to that.
Hind: Me too. Well, I’ll drink a Shirley Temple to that.
Andy: Ditto. Final thoughts?
Galen: Happy New Year! Let’s move on from 2016, but never forget its name.
Hind: And hello 2017! We have high hopes for you, and we’re committed to working with you to help you achieve them.
Image via Pixabay