Saddened by the many celebrity deaths and the rise of divisive politics this year, many of us are tempted to wish that 2016 would end fast and that 2017 will be better. But if we understand what made 2016 the way it was, we will see that 2017 will be more of the same. And unless we learn from the lessons of 2016, we are likely to have many more years like this.
Lesson 1: People die when they get old, and we’re getting old too
Many artists and creators who died in 2016 had lived to what some would call “a ripe old age” — Richard Adams at 96, Debbie Reynolds at 84, George Martin at 90, Harper Lee at 89.
As we all age, the icons of our pop culture also age, and we should realize that the aging process will not stop in 2017. Instead, we should celebrate their achievements and set our own goals for what we would like our obituaries to say.
Lesson 2: Substance abuse can shorten your life
One the other hand, several of the talented artists who were ‘gone too soon’ this year had substance abuse in their past. Even though they died of other causes, and in some cases had overcome their addictions, the substances sadly appear to have taken their toll on these artists.
If we can learn this from David Bowie, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher, we should beware of substance abuse.
Lesson 3: The underlying social causes need to be addressed
In 2016, liberal progressives and globalization were overthrown by Trump and Brexit, causing shocks to established governments and mainstream media. There are many underlying societal reasons for the swing towards nationalism and populism, including income inequality, identity crises, and perceived abuse. Until these worldwide problems are solved, more countries are likely to follow suit in 2017.
All our social media posts venting and criticizing this trend and these leaders are not going to solve the problem. We need instead to start making a difference in our communities.
Lesson 4: Fake news needs to be identified and counteracted
Fake news has hit new heights thanks to social media algorithms and basic human psychology. It is profitable for cybercriminals because popular fake news sites earn huge sums from online ads and can host malware. It is a very effective tool of governments who want to destabilize others, especially since democratic states with relative freedom of information are very vulnerable. The Czech Republic’s new counter-terrorism unit has fake news on its radar, and other nations need to do so too.
On our part, we need to be alert to fake news, and to flag it wherever we find it, not share it and spread it.
No amount of wishing that 2016 ends fast will bring about a happier 2017. But if we can learn some of the lessons that this year has brought, we can do better for the future.