December is the month of the rearview mirror. And 2018 was the year of dread. It feels like we live on the edge — anxious, always expecting to turn to the news to learn of another mass shooting or natural disaster. If we had an annual weather report for the year, it would be “mostly cloudy.”
This was the year of bombs and bullets, fires and floods, hurricanes and howling winds. We fought about monuments and migrants, facts and Facebook. It is the year of record numbers of women elected to Congress against the backdrop of sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement. We have argued about Moscow’s meddling and the role of a free press. From tax reform to health care, we have argued about winners and losers.
Some Americans have lived well in 2018; many not well at all. For the most part, we have allowed the politics of division to thrive, and we have grown apart as some of our institutions have succumbed in a downward spiral of discourse.
But the good news about December is that we enter the month fresh from Thanksgiving and its abundant spirit of gratitude, and we head into the joyous holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, both of which celebrate light over darkness. And we celebrate New Year’s Eve with resolutions for how to start anew. And therein lies the challenge: What can we learn from 2018 to do better in 2019?
1. Pray. It doesn’t matter how you worship, we need some prayer for our country and its people. It’s unhealthy to live in a state of high anxiety. Let’s take a collective sigh.
2. Reconnect the old-fashioned way. Make a call, pay a visit or give someone a hug or a kiss. Let’s also aim to have an e-free season.
3. Set a national goal. Address climate change, for example, which several U.S. government agencies forecast could knock has much as 10 percent off the size of the U.S. economy by the end of the century. Perhaps you can commit to secure freedom of religion, freedom of the press or respect for individual rights.
Whatever you choose to do in 2019, do it with generosity of spirit and a willingness to hear the other side. If nothing else, let’s try to learn from the mistakes of this past year. Not listening to each other divides us into a battle in which we all risk becoming “the other.”
Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. She advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.