It is my hope that 2013 proves to be a turning point for America. The collective human nature of a society will instinctively push back from the edges of extremism – it is society’s survival instinct. The extremes of 2013 provide the perfect opportunity a much-needed change of attitudes in America.
In 2013, the racial divide in America reached new heights. The debate over who can use the N-word exploded. The trial and not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman became a barometer of racial tension in this country. When a case involving a young black male and a man of Hispanic descent exploded into a “black/white” issue, it was obvious many Americans were looking for a reason to make race part of a national debate; and the news media was all too willing to fuel the flames of hate.
The Zimmerman trial also ignited the debate over gun control, and the support of and criticism of Zimmerman’s actions as a self-proclaimed neighborhood watch cop touched the issue of individuals circumventing law enforcement to enforce civility.
In 2013, rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court did not strike a blow against the legalization of same-sex marriage - much to the disappointment of many Americans, who were hoping and praying that the High Court would support their specific moral perspective. The rulings further inspired a debate about morality in America as the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage grew significantly.
A new pope took the helm of the Catholic Church and he immediately sent shock waves through not only the Catholics community, but throughout the Christian world by touching issues that his predecessors dare not address – from acceptance of homosexual priests to the possibility that atheists could have a path to Heaven. But many around the world applauded the inclusive tone of Pope Francis.
This was the year that the recreational use and possession of marijuana became legal in two states and the Obama Administration announced a change of policy concerning federal laws prohibiting pot. Previously stating that marijuana would remain illegal on the federal level regardless of what decisions were made on a state level, the Administration changed its position and announced that the federal government would respect the state laws that legalized pot for medical and recreational use and the debate over legalizing marijuana reached new heights, in 2013.
Though bullying has always been a reality in the equation of human relations, this year bullying rose to a level that made it seem as if it was suddenly a new problem for teenagers. The news media responded to the new-founded fears about bullying by linking it to teen suicides.
While it seemed there was an obvious connection between many teen suicides and bullying, the media largely failed to consider other factors that might have led to the decision to end a young life. This was one of many opportunities I had to point out the motives of the news media. The news media is driven by the desire to attract the largest possible audience and creating and feeding hysteria and panic are guaranteed to attract the attention of a mass audience and lead to a continuing debate, which benefits the news media.
The year of 2013 will be remembered as the year that ideological differences between conservatives and liberals spun out of control. In an effort to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act – derogatorily named Obamacare – a Republican-led crusade resulted in a partial shutdown of the federal government. During the shutdown, the intensity of political hate among politicians and the American people reached a peak. The deepening divide between the right and the left may have been best exemplified by conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter, who said that any Republicans who attacked fellow members of the Republican Party over the government shutdown should “just becomeDemocrats” – a suggestion that one must believe everything their party stands for in order to claim to be a member of that party.
Locally, the story about the Causeway Commission’s consideration of a $28 million project to raise the guard rail on the southbound bridge following a third accident that resulted in a vehicle going over the railing into the lake fit perfectly into the trend of diminished respect for personal accountability. Representatives of the Causeway Commission raised the issue that there are many more high-profile vehicles on the roads today that were not on the road when the original southbound bridge was built. But it was also mentioned that the most recent accident involved a young driver who “was in the right lane – drifted slowly to theleft lane, impacted the left guard rail, then veered to the right to hit the right guard rail and almost immediately took a hard left, almost a 90-degree left, departed, went over the rail.” That description of the actions of the driver prior to the accident would suggest that personal responsibility may have been a bigger consideration than the height of the guard rail.
The prominent themes that stand out from the controversies of 2013 include - the escalating level of hate-inspired debate, a news media that promotes hysteria and the continuing loss of personal accountability.
If it is important to the survival of humanity to sense when to retreat from the edge of extremes, 2013 could prove to be that moment when we ease the hate and learn to accept the speech and actions of others that we disapprove of - as long as their beliefs pose no direct threat to innocent bystanders in life. The beginning of the New Year should also be the moment when we admit that we have not yet had a truly honest conversation about race relations and this will take harsh honesty on both sides of the debate.
The single factor that has had the greatest impact on the faltering of American society in recent decades has been the continuing demise of personal accountability and many of the controversies of 2013 have shown us that American society has actually celebrated the loss of accepting accountability for personal actions. Blaming someone or something else for individual mistakes is a sure way to improve self-esteem.
If we are to make the New Year of 2014 better, then we must learn from the faults of the year that’s ending.
The 1998 hit by the group Subsonic contains lyrics that we should all embrace as we welcome the New Year of 2014 – “every new beginning comes from someother beginning’s end.”
As individuals, as communities and as a nation – let us acknowledge the past as we embark on this new beginning – 2014!