Practically all my friends and colleagues would consider 2016 to have been a horrible year. Right before New Year’s Eve, I remember some saying they couldn’t wait for 2016 to end, an anticipation fueled by series of celebrity deaths and Donald Trump becoming elected. It was apparently such a terrible year that Slate proclaimed 2016 as Word of the Year.
In my view, reflecting from within my bubble of being a Korean-American male living in NYC as a professional social worker, I think this hoopla about 2016 is overblown. I look back on the challenges I’ve faced and the opportunities I arrived at in 2016, and for me 2016 was not a definitely a bad year. It was a mix of emotions good and bad, and a mix of goals achieved and unfulfilled. In reflecting about the past year, it takes some effort to differentiate between personal reflections (what happened to me and those dear to me in 2016) vs socio-political reflections (what happened to the country and the world I live in).
Outside of my bubble, yes, 2016 was awful for many, many people. Russia bombed the hell out of Syria and many people who fled from the atrocities there were scorned and shamed as they tried to find refugee in other countries. Russia also invaded Ukraine. There was the usual hell and fear-mongering in North Korea. There are those places ISIS/ISIL have come to operate in. There were many areas in United States where things were tragic, such as in Flint, Michigan where people’s public water supply had toxic levels of lead in them, and such as in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where Native American water protectors were attacked and arrested by a militarized police contractors. I will not argue against the fact that 2016 was a painful year to survive.
Relatively speaking though, most of it was a continuation of horrible things in the previous years. If 2016 was horrible because 60,000 people were homeless in NYC, then so was 2015 for the exact same reason. In overhyping the tragedy and awful-ness of 2016, it seems to me like society has a perplexing sort of selective memory. Even with the specific examples mentioned above, like the corruption and mismanagement of public water in Flint, Michigan and in so many other U.S. cities, they were still issues in 2015, in 2014, perhaps even much longer than that. Issues don’t go away just because the years change. People have to do something about them, and I guess 2016 felt so awful because it seemed like people kept making things worse.
Two big events really contributed to this feeling – Brexit and election of Donald Trump (and what often gets overlooked is that Republicans won crazy majority of Congress). Really though, if you think about it, these events are implications of the future beyond 2016. Great Britain didn’t actually leave EU in 2016; it’s just that people voted to do it. Donald Trump didn’t become president in 2016; it’s just that people voted for that. So if these two things are what made 2016 so awful, really we should be less worried about 2016, and more frightened about 2017 and beyond. I’m normally an optimistic person, and I think most of my colleagues will attest to that, but I am scared shitless of 2017, and beyond. 2016 was a window showing dangerous policies to come; 2017 is when those policies will begin to take effect. Liberals and activists are going to have to brace themselves; we’re going to be in a long tough fight for our lives and for the lives of those we love and care about.
That’s not to say I don’t think awesome things will happen in 2017. For some reason, the stories about 2016 has been so negative but there were actually a lot of awesome and inspiring things that happened in 2016. One of them was Bernie Sanders’ issues-oriented campaign that drove young people all across the country to participate in the political process. The rise of #blacklivesmatter movement was another. People continued to donate lots of time and money to humanitarian causes, and in 2016 some of it became viral like with the ice bucket challenge. Final Fantasy XV and Last Guardian were actually released, and though I haven’t yet played either, I’ve been reading that they are very, very good games. As with any year, awesome things and terrible things happened, and everything in between as well. The pessimistic and cynical tendency to paint an entire year of stuff as awful is not only inaccurate, but also in that selective memory loss we can lose our sense of progress and hope.
Reflecting from within my personal bubble, 2016 was a year of many different kinds of achievements. I actually was not single for a large part of it and learned some important life lessons about dating and relationships, though I regret deeply that I broke hearts of some very nice women in the process.
I became well-adjusted in my job as a social worker enough to be the one to train new hires, be part of a committee to draft and revise the work site’s protocols, and develop and abide by an efficient work routine. Social work was not easy, but I’m so glad of the fact that for many tenant on my caseload, 2016 was the year they stopped being homeless. They experienced such tough challenges. Some tenants ended up relapsing after so many years of sobriety from substances and some ended up seriously hospitalized.
My reflection about my 2016 as a social worker is a mix of pride, hope, and immense sadness. I’ve had to say farewells to colleagues and 2016 actually began with a tenant on my caseload dying and then the tenant’s parents coming to my job and yelling at me and blaming me for their child’s death. So far, that’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever experienced in my professional career as a social worker. To me that means I’m still a novice and 2016 had a lot of lessons for me, most of which I think I passed, some which I still need a lot of work to do. I’ve come to see tenants on my caseload make goals about their lives and I’ve come to see them actually achieve a lot of those goals. Seeing that happen was such an honor. As I reflect from within my personal bubble, I feel so grateful, so privileged to have gone through 2016 the way I did.
In some ways, my socio-political reflection about 2016 doesn’t feel that different. I imagine President Barack Obama thinking back of his final year as president. There were a lot of things this country did that was problematic and a lot of things that happened to the country which presented unwinnable dilemmas, but there were definitely things to feel proud of and inspired by. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty in 2016, which just couldn’t be shaken off. It was a year full of fears and fear-mongering. I really do feel like a pessimist in thinking that some of those fears will start being realized in 2017 but alas our fight, our lives continue. At least from within my personal bubble, I will do all I can to feel mostly proud of what I do in 2017.