A happier new year takes imagination and courage

Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara

There is much to lament, much to loathe and more to dread in these difficult and uncertain times. And yet, given the choice between fear and despair, I choose hope – hope for the extraordinary.

It is tough to be optimistic about future prospects when the pandemic rages on, killing millions and wreaking havoc in the lives and livelihoods of countless people everywhere; when global warming threatens our very existence on this earth; and when poor government tackling of the first does not bode well for addressing the second.

But though it is hard to see the bigger picture during hard times, the world is in fact better off today than it has ever been in the past. Thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of so many, on the whole, people are better fed, clothed, educated, sheltered, and connected. As a human civilisation, we are healthier, wealthier, and more secure.

And yet, as a Palestinian, I certainly get why this may ring hollow to the many who have suffered terribly from the pandemic, from war, displacement, poverty and more. I see why many would disagree when there is talk about a new cold war, about Russia and China invading their neighbours, about Israel starting another war in the Middle East, about dictatorships conspiring and consolidating. But Palestine is not only a tortured homeland living all these horrors, it is also a symbol of relentless struggle for freedom, peace and justice everywhere.

What other choice do we have? Living a life of dread and trepidation is no life worth living. Pessimism is lazy, indifference is inhumane, and cynicism is just cowardly. Fatalism is a self-fulfilling stupidity and escapism towards a reimagined past is futile. The answer to our present troubles lies not in the past, but in the future.

And that is why I think we should do better; we can do better; we must do better.

Indeed, my hope lies in our capacity to shape our own destiny, in our unprecedented ability to change things for the better for all, if only we summon the will and courage to do it. Never in the history of humanity have people possessed anywhere near the know-how, the capacity, and the means to deal with societal ills and natural disasters, as we do today.

Today’s scientists can forecast natural calamities well in advance like never before. Some may downplay, ignore or deny climate change, but they can claim ignorance no more. Indeed, thanks to science and technology, governments and corporations are bound to do more towards the reduction of carbon emissions, now that it is popular, even fashionable and profitable to invest in a green economy.

On the pandemic, scientists are optimistic that the coronavirus’s toll on global health “will ease” this year. They have produced a vaccine for COVID-19 in the fraction of the time it took to produce jabs for other infectious diseases. The fact that vaccines have not reached all those who need them is a political problem, not a scientific one. In 2022, we can work to resolve it as well.

Politics could and should be the continuation of common will through other means: the management of power towards better ends.

Many of our troubles come not from lack of resources, but rather from their mismanagement and misdistribution. So why act helpless or resigned when, in fact, we are able to tackle inequality, end repression, prevent war, or deal with their consequences?

We can also be better towards each other, if only we shake off indifference and overcome differences, real and imagined, as we have done the last couple of years. If the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change have taught us anything, it is that despite the differences, our destiny is intertwined.

Above all else, life is a personal struggle and a shared journey. Life is meaningless without a meaningful struggle, especially one waged with empathy and passion in the pursuit of, well, happiness. Now that is a future worth fighting for; a good fight worth fighting.

Last year ended with much noise about repression, disruption, stagnation, inflation and so on. But as we embark on a new year, it is worth remembering that hatred and violence come with a hefty price, while the most valuable assets in life do not come with a price tag: love, friendship, family and community are priceless, literally and figuratively.

Our civilisation has created so much beauty, poetry, music, and colour. There is so much more to see, feel, embrace, enjoy and accomplish.

As Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet put it all too eloquently:

The most beautiful sea:
hasn’t been crossed yet.
The most beautiful child:
hasn’t grown up yet.
Our most beautiful days:
we haven’t seen yet.
And the most beautiful words I wanted to tell you
I haven’t said yet…

If it is all a dream, let us dream big. If we must open our eyes, let us look up, look ahead and make it count.

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