The past year has both challenged our understanding of who we are and tested our ability to love our neighbors. On the national stage, acts of violence and fear-based politics created painful rifts between communities, eroding trust and breeding hatred. On the flip side, tragedies like the terrorist attacks in Paris, Charleston, and San Bernardino, often serve to bring communities together in their shared grief, however briefly. But even then, that apparent unity often relies on a scapegoat, a common "enemy."
Our hope, in 2016, is that we focus on acceptance, shared values, and how much stronger we are together. Robert F. Kennedy expressed this imperative clearly in his remarks to the Cleveland City Club in 1968.
"When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies," he said. "We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others."
On that note, here are three ways to rise above in 2016 (aka: How not to be an a**hole in the new year).
1. Stand up for religious tolerance.
As the threat of attacks by so-called Islamic extremists creeps back into the American consciousness, a high-profile candidate for the presidency stokes the flames of his own brand of extremism, proposing that the United States turn away people based on their faith.
Fortunately, the rise of that hatred is inspiring fair-minded, accepting people to speak out. Around Bend, businesses have begun displaying "Hate Has No Business Here" fliers in their windows, letting passersbys know that they welcome religious diversity, refugees, and immigrants. And on Sunday, Jan. 10, a group of local activists will take that solidarity a step further with a peace vigil in front of the Deschutes County Courthouse in Bend at 4:30 pm as part of an effort to advocate for immigration reform and speak out against "hateful rhetoric."
2. Oppose all forms of extremism.
While we tend to reserve the "religious extremist" label for killers who associate themselves with a warped version of Islam, extremism comes in a variety of vessels and subscribes to a host of ideologies. Case in point, a group of armed militia groups is apparently planning to meet up at the Bend Wilco on Saturday, Jan. 2 before heading to Harney County to participate in a rally and stand off against the federal government. According to the folks at the Rural Organizing Project, counter-protestors are planning to hold a peaceful demonstration alongside the meet-up at 10 am.
3. Don't buy into false distinctions.
Divide and conquer is a strategy long used by the most powerful to get everyone else to do their bidding by creating in-fighting and discord. For example: the pervasive belief that the poor are just lazy, stupid, or immoral. Hard work isn't always enough, and the person living in their car, collecting food stamps, or moving into the new low-income apartment complex down the street is more like you than you think.
Earlier this year, a group of neighbors showed up en masse to complain at City Council about a pending apartment complex, decrying the noise and mess that no doubt follows the sort of people who rent apartments. Even Source readers have written in to associate affordable housing with trash and crime.
And an even sillier division is happening in our local high schools, where students from "opposing" high schools are discouraged from sitting or visiting with friends at other schools during sporting events. The policy is intended to prevent scuffles, but instead, it creates a culture of "us against them," turning what should be a good-natured competition into a small-scale Cold War.
The future is filled with challenges that, if we are to overcome them, will require us to bring our best selves to the table—working together with the whole community, especially those who are different from us.