While reading the news on News Year’s Eve, a sense of impending turmoil filled my mind. Heightened unrest in the Middle East, dangerous proclamations by dictators, and democracy being tested at home. There is no question that as a country we have grown more polarized, that national sentiment has permeated our state and local politics as well.
The exact moment things began to change from disagreement to anger is hard to identify, the reasons even more so. There are plenty of theories, many of which have merit and are most likely not completely wrong. But are we surprised by where we are today, does the news shock you? Regardless of political affiliation, personal beliefs whether you are up or down, people are angry. That anger justified or not is becoming an American value, a value that will destroy the freedoms we take increasingly for granted.
So, what can be done? How can any one person make an impact? It’s naive to believe an individual can influence change, isn’t it? To solve a problem, it must first be understood. Recognizing that the present is the culmination of past actions, we arrive at the destination that a path leads us to. The culture of anger has neared each time we as individuals choose to step down that path. Every time we choose intolerance, point blame, and give up on empathy, we support anger. Collectively, small actions even if they are passive, our thoughts manifest into the society we see and experience. So, if our individual thoughts and actions created the problem the solution rest within each of us.
There are plenty of cliché sayings and motivational statements addressing what an individual can accomplish. Maybe more of us need to read them, but perhaps more of us need to recognize the impacts we make both negative and positive. I would implore all of us to take stock in the New Year and think about what kind of society you want to live in and how your thoughts and actions help to create it. It is easy to find justification for being angry or apathetic, easy to believe that if circumstances change that things will get better, but nothing will change if “we” don’t. Strong leaders inspire and when we cannot find leadership to emulate, we must become that person. American values have embodied tolerance, acceptance and compromise because the cost of being right is too great. If the challenges we face are met with blame, frustration and absolutes, then solutions will be difficult to find and the associated externalities will be great.
As Americans we have so much to lose, more than we will ever gain by getting everything we think we need or want. As individuals we must practice acceptance no matter how justified the indignation. All of us are leaders through our thoughts and actions, and while change is slow and difficult, it has to begin. Only by stepping outside of our echo chambers, turning off polarizing news, and actively trying to understand others without judgment will move society forward and make us resilient once again.
• Steve Ricci is an active community member in Juneau, sitting on several boards and commissions, past legislative aide working on both sides of the aisle, and past commercial fisherman that still works in the industry — just from a desk now.