With just a few days to go before 2017 takes over the reigns, public scrutiny of your twelve-month world tenure has reached fever pitch. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, your approval ratings have steadily plummeted throughout the year, and for most people, your legacy will not be a favourable one. If my Facebook timeline is anything to go by, then the general feeling could be summed up as follows: “Fuck you 2016!”.
I won’t try to deny that you’ve put plenty of people through a lot of shit, 2016. There have been countless disasters on your watch, both natural and entirely man-made, not to mention an unprecedented number of deaths of iconic public figures.
But you already know all of this, and that’s not why I decided to write to you. Rather, I can’t help but feel that for all your flaws you’ve been somewhat misunderstood, and I wanted you to know that I think many people have judged you too harshly.
I’m concerned by our collective failure to view your tenure with appropriate nuance. I think this is merely the latest example of a much larger failure. It’s strange, really, that with so many different sources of information at our disposal we seem to be developing ever-more limited and partisan views on so many things.
Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, I would like to tell you that, as well as all the much-publicised bad stuff, I for one have seen plenty of good in you.
On a personal, selfish level, I’m very grateful that you’ve allowed me to travel more than 40,000kms overland all over South Africa and Namibia, and to meet, interview and befriend countless incredible and inspiring people along the way.
On your watch, I’ve worked on some extremely satisfying stories and passion projects, and seen my work published in a number of new international publications that have long been on my wishlist. Overall, my work has broadened its reach considerably this year.
In October, I had the honour of MCing the wedding of two very good friends, and have also seen other friends birth happy, healthy children over the course of the year.
As for my own relationship with my intimate partner, it’s certainly had its challenges, as all relationships do. But looking back now, you’ve helped me to learn a lot about myself and about her. Ultimately, you’ve only made us stronger, both together and as individuals.
I appreciate that my personal triumphs may seem rather insignificant in the grand scheme, and will probably do little to assuage the general feeling of negativity that surrounds you. But I certainly think there have been positives on the macro level too. From important new medical and scientific breakthroughs to tiger populations on the rise for the first time in 100 years, there’s more to celebrate than most people have been willing to acknowledge.
I also feel that much of the blame for the likes of Trump, Brexit, Libya and Aleppo has been unfairly laid at your feet. In fact, I think that a lot of what has gone wrong during these past twelve months is more the fault of the years that preceded you. You’ve unfairly become the fall guy for decades of greed, inequality, injustice and exploitation.
Surely we all know, for example, that police shootings of black Americans are not a phenomenon of your own creation, but rather a long-endured sufferance that is finally getting more airtime, with the help of smartphones and social media.
Perversely, I think that to some extent the outrage and disillusionment that has surrounded these kinds of issues, and largely defined your entire tenure, is perhaps your most important contribution to the world. After all, we have to fully acknowledge the extent of the world’s pain to make significant contributions to alleviating it, and you have played a leading role in amplifying the expression of that deep and multi-faceted pain.
It is sad and unfortunate that this has left us in a situation where we increasingly find ourselves polarised over whose pain is more important. But I still believe that more and more oppressed people and important causes finding their voice is a hopeful development. While the growing din might suggest that the world is worse off than it was before you took over, 2016, I think that often we’re still just overwhelmed by all the noise, and that this is confusing us and skewing our judgment.
In the past few months, you might be interested to know that I’ve made a conscious effort to gravitate away from all of this noise in search of more clarity, in part through spending considerably less time on Facebook and Twitter. Some might see this as an unwillingness to engage with or bear witness to the world’s pain, but I feel it’s the complete opposite.
Thanks in large part to you, 2016, I’m more aware than ever of the wrong in the world, but I increasingly think that, for me, the accompanying outrage that has so often dominated my timelines has served its purpose, and that I would now rather spend more of my time trying to actively attack some of the on-the-ground roots of that outrage, in my own small ways.
This on-going journey away from social media has only further reinforced my innate sense that although you are deeply flawed, and despite all the times you may have broken our hearts, there is more good and hope to be found in you than is generally suggested online. First hand, even some of the direst situations I’ve witnessed during your tenure have often simultaneously revealed an astonishing wealth of human capital.
None of this is to say that I don’t hope for 2017 and beyond to be better, kinder than you were. But for me, this hope is not founded on a total rejection of your positive attributes, but rather on an unshakeable feeling that you might have fallen on your own sword for the benefit of future years. I can’t help but believe that like all of us, there’s more to you than meets the eye.
I hope your retirement affords you time to reflect, and that you find some peace.