So it’s New Year’s Eve. You know, if 2017 ever had an induction meeting with humanity before taking over from 2016, here’s how I imagine the conversation would go:
2017: Hello, I’m 2017 and I’m here for the induction.
2017: Yes. I’ve just been employed as the new year. It’s my first day tomorrow, but I was told to come and see you before I got started…
Humanity: Ah, yes! Take a seat, take a seat! I have to say, you’ve come at just the right time.
2017: I have?
Humanity: Oh yes. You see, your predecessor was just awful. AWFUL! So many things went wrong under 2016’s tenure, so we’re delighted they’ve come to the end of their contract. But they’ve left us in an awful mess, so we thought it would be best if we had a little chat before you get going, just so you know what needs cleaning up.
Humanity: So – it seems 2016 thought it would be okay to create some deep divisions in society.
2017: It did?
Humanity: Oh yes – it’s in all the media outlets if you don’t believe us. We’re divided. You’re either a Brexiteer or a Remainer. Pro-Trump of Pro-Clinton. Left or right. Those who think we’re divided and those that don’t think we’re divided. It’s very clear.
2017: So what do you want me to do about that?
Humanity: Well you see, the truth is, as a species, when we look inside our hearts, we think that maybe we don’t really want to be divided.
2017: Oh? And why is that?
Humanity: Well, because we’ve realised that on the inside, we all have people we love. We all have fears. Hopes. Dreams. We all want the best for our children. We all feel empty and sad when we see conflict. We all feel a warmth inside when we make others happy. The truth is, despite everything we’re hearing, when we look at ourselves we realise that there is so much more that unites us than makes us different, and as such, we really have nothing to fear from each other.
2017: But if that’s true, what’s the problem? Doesn’t that mean that you’re not really divided after all, and that you’re being tricked into thinking you are?
Humanity: The problem, 2017, is that whenever we feel threatened by something or someone, our first reaction isn’t always to remind ourselves of everything we have in common with each other, or to place ourselves in the shoes of those we fear to try and understand them better. Instead, we’re increasingly looking to blame someone when things go wrong. And it’s all 2016’s fault.
2017: So what do you need from me?
Humanity: Well, we’re worried there are going to be some moments over the next year that will threaten to divide us even further. In those moments, it will be your job to remind us that beneath all those things that make us different – gender, skin colour, religion, sexuality, social status, wealth, political allegiances, EVERYTHING – deep down we’ve still got so much in common, and if we only realised this and worked together as a species, we could accomplish anything.
2017: You talk about these differences as though they are something to be feared, but don’t you realise that they aren’t actually a threat at all?
Humanity: What do you mean?
2017: I mean shouldn’t you be celebrating your differences rather than being afraid of them?
Humanity: But differences are scary!
Humanity: Because… because they’re different, that’s why!
2017: Are they really though? Aren’t most of your differences rooted in shared similarities you just aren’t aware of?
Humanity: What are you talking about?
2017: I mean that if you look hard enough, all differences are born from a foundation you all share – you talked about it earlier – your collective hopes and dreams. Your loves. It’s what makes you different, but it’s also what makes you the same. And that’s a wonderful thing.
Humanity: This is great stuff 2017, great stuff. If this conversation wasn’t so abstract, we’d be writing this all down.
2017: I’m glad I seem to be getting through to you.
Humanity: Yes, but here’s the thing – individually we can be pretty smart, but as an overall species, we can be pretty dumb sometimes. You see, many of us have got pretty short memories, and once we’ve finished this conversation, we’ll go off and check our Facebook feeds, then we’ll watch some amusing cat videos on the internet, then we’ll read some juicy celebrity gossip, and within twelve minutes we’ll have forgotten everything you’ve told us about not being afraid and whatever else it was you just said. So, over the coming year, do you think you could keep reminding us of what we’ve just spoken about?
2017: I’m sorry, but that’s not part of my job description.
Humanity: Oh yes it is 2017 – listen very carefully – we can’t afford any slip-ups like the ones 2016 made. We need you to be the best year ever. Do you understand?
2017: I understand completely. Look, I have the potential to be one of the greatest years in the history of the human race, or perhaps one that is not so great. But all that is really up to you.
Humanity: What do you mean?
2017: I mean I will be whatever you make me out to be. So if you find yourself facing a difficult situation and choices need to be made, it will be your responsibility to make those choices against a backdrop of remembering what you all have in common with each other; to empathise with those you don’t understand; to take a moment to stop and think when someone says something you disagree with.
Humanity: You mean we can do this on our own?
2017: No, not on your own. If you’re going to do this, you need to do it together.
Happy New Year everyone. Let’s make it a good one, together.