Political commentators and celebrities are bidding good riddance to 2016 largely because of the ideological divide and politics that separates the nation. It’s a singular way to gauge a year, as if politics is the measure of all things. Coming off a holiday season celebrating with family is a reminder that there are more important things in life.
Jacques Ellul warned about making everything political. He called this the “political illusion” — the belief that most of our problems are political and therefore require political solutions. So in this season of resolutions and new beginnings, here are a few suggestions for a better 2017.
Let’s start with our elected representatives as they embark on a historic General Assembly with Republicans in charge for the first time since the Bronze Age. Politicians must realize their limits. If their only tool is a hammer, everything in view looks like a nail. The problems of addiction, unemployment, and poverty have dimensions outside the political realm and therefore solutions outside the political realm must be considered. For the ruling class to understand this takes wisdom. For them to act on this reality takes restraint.
Here’s a suggestion for the institutional media: Take inventory as to why you’re losing followers and influence. (Hint: It’s not the new digital media and fake news). Pursue truth in a news story where all sides are fairly represented. Remember that objective reporting is found in the news section. Opinions on the other hand are slanted and found on the op-ed page.
University administrators should reject the idea of “safe spaces” where students’ “psychological safety” trumps intellectual challenge. Universities are supposed to be arenas where ideas are freely exchanged and students pushed to think. Creating ideologically uniform bubbles beset with “trigger warnings” undermines this.
Here’s a resolution for all Kentuckians: Work on trying to understand one another better. Not persuading others to your particular brand of politics. Nor convincing others they’re wrong but really listening and working to understand. Perhaps the election results would have been less a shock if more people got to know their neighbor’s and coworker’s concerns.
This leads to the next suggestion: participate in more conversations with those you disagree with. Not arguments or rants. Conversations. This is where mature individuals dialogue and discuss ideas that they may not agree with. And in case you were wondering, verbal daggers coupled with condescension and belittling aren’t found in conversations. Note to texters: put down your your smartphone and look across the table at the person you’re supposed to be dialoguing with.
We ought to understand that each person has a responsibility to positively contribute to the commonwealth. Think the best of others. If you’re tempted to criticize, walk a mile in their shoes before doing so. If you’re prone to making snap judgments on another who doesn’t meet your standards, work on empathy. Instead of contributing to divisiveness and division, become a reconciler. After all, our motto is United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
If Kentucky needs more peace, love and mercy, let it start with you. Lasting change for the betterment of our society will not happen by waiting for a few influential people to do big things. It will not come from a legislative act or executive order. Nor will it come through the institutional media. Instead, important cultural change will happen by myriads of people regularly doing small things with lots of love. By God’s grace, 2017 can be a great year if we practice this.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonprofit public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with this wife and children.