2017 Resolutions for Contributing to Just, Honest, Thriving World
A new year. A much-needed chance to start fresh. Resolutions are fun, and I created my usual list of things like writing more (day one, check!), putting my phone down when I’m with family, exercising and eating well, and better managing email.
But I know deeper changes are needed. Sadly, this past year exposed profound divides in the world and in America in particular — high levels of distrust in each other, in our leaders, in our institutions, and, most disturbingly, in facts. This comes at a bad time. As the world’s biggest challenges get thornier and bigger, it gets clearer that we must work together to solve them.
We must listen to each other more and understand differences of opinion. But that does not mean condoning hatred, misogyny, and racism (or, in the case of climate change, multigenerational oppression).
On a day of looking back and forward, here are my 2017 resolutions for playing my part in building a better world.
1. Spread truth. My new mantra every morning: facts matter. We re-learned in 2016 that people largely base decisions (like voting) on emotions. But that doesn’t mean facts have no meaning. If we don’t share a basic reality, we’ll waste a tremendous amount of time and energy: many will think we have problems that we don’t and we’ll have trouble solving the real ones. So I will assert truth confidently. For example, the overwhelming consensus of science is that climate change is happening and we are responsible. In my talks and writing, I’ve stopped saying things like “Whether or not you believe in climate change…” and now just say “because of climate change” and move on to talk about what companies and countries are doing about it. Of course, in 2016, the fake stories were nuttier than climate denial. When half of Trump voters believe Clinton was involved in a pedophilia ring, I honestly don’t know what to do. But we have to proactively spread fact as widely as possible. Second, we cannot sit silently as lies and vileness prevail…
2. Defend decency and truth (the “Billy Bush” rule). We all get into conversations where we hear crazy or offensive things. It’s too easy to just let a statement like, “We don’t know that humans are causing climate change” go by to avoid conflict. But we can’t allow dangerous misperceptions or more blatantly horrible statements about race or gender to stand anymore — with friends, family, clients, or anyone. Basically, I don’t want to be Billy Bush on the bus with Trump, chuckling as they talked about assaulting women. But situations that clear cut are rare. More commonly, we face more subtle or weird situations. I didn’t know how to handle it when a neighborhood friend asserted that “Obama is more racist than Trump and hates white people.” It’s not easy to say, “that’s offensive” or “that’s not true,” but I will do better in 2017.
3. Ask questions and listen…but don’t be afraid to “block” someone. I want to understand different views. But I can’t work with everyone. I know many people feel that “blocking” people in social media (or real life) creates a self-reinforcing bubble, and that’s a fair concern. But empathy and understanding have limits. If someone says Obamacare is a disaster or renewable energy is a waste of money, I want to understand where they’re coming from and have a healthy debate. I will give people a chance to have a civil conversation and ask for their views. But if someone calls people “libtards,” revels in “liberal tears,” calls someone a “fascist” purely for different (but not authoritarian) views, or says “everyone who thinks x needs to die,” they’re probably not worth my time.
4. Fact-check before forwarding/spreading a story. The fake news trend is a disaster for democracy and society. I don’t want to be part of it. But it’s so tempting on Twitter or elsewhere to just share something juicy. Trump said what? They’re dismantling the EPA and destroying Medicare? It’s worth taking a few minutes to see where something came from, finding the original source, and looking closely at when a story came out. Right after the election, I re-tweeted a story of someone painting swastikas in a Jewish cemetery, thinking it was a result of Trump’s election…but this particular example had happened long before the election. There are enough real stories to get worked up about and rally the troops on — we don’t need to invent or misrepresent anything. Resolution 4b: Demand that the media be more direct: It’s not exactly fake news, but when the news media calls blatantly racist statements “controversial,” they’re contributing to the problem — I will contact the media (tweeting at them is fine) to call them on this.
5. Don’t just kvetch — share the positive and get moving. Finally, it’s too easy to dive into the social media stream and get into long, fun, witty discussions with those you agree with (or don’t). I desperately need time to vent, but just complaining is soul-sucking and useless. (Also, on a related note, counterfactual debates about whether Bernie would’ve won or Trump could’ve won the popular vote if he campaigned differently are fun, but useless). I will continue my work of spreading stories and ideas that educate and show how good things can be — examples like the fantastic growth of renewable energy or companies cutting carbon and defending human rights. But I need to do more directly. On the civic action side, I will call my representatives and march if need be (some great ideas here). In my professional life, I won’t just talk, write, and advise, but work to mobilize business to actively build a sustainable world and press the new administration to support the clean economy. My work on this front began a couple days after the election.
For those of us who believe our challenges are real and pressing — and think we’re likely to move backwards now — this could be a rough year (or four). I hope to do my best to spread and defend truth and decency, really listen, and take action.