A look back at the sand slipping through the hourglass that was 2013 and very few of the headlines circulating reflect on a positive year. We remember one filled with strife, tragedy, loss, destruction, lewdness, insensitivity, irresponsibility, fury, fear, helplessness, disappointment, anger and tears.
The lists on surveys conducted by major news organizations looks a little something like this:
Top Ten Stories of 2013:
-Paula Deen Lawsuit
-Death of Nelson Mandela
-A New Pope
-Nuclear Fears in North Korea
-Civil War in Syria
-Acquittal of George Zimmerman
-Birth of the Royal Baby
-Boston Marathon Bombings
-The Affordable Care Act Rollout
-Jodi Arias Trial
-Edward Snowden NSA Leaks
-SCOTUS Ruling on Same Sex Marriage
-Tornadoes in Oklahoma
-Escape of the Cleveland Kidnapping Victims
-Typhoon in the Philippines
-The Government Shutdown
-Mall Siege in Nairobi
-D.C. Navy Yard Shooting
-Crash of Asiana Flight 214
-Gun Control Measures Fail in the Senate
The above name just a few of the "top story" choices circulating online. Many news outlets will recap the drama in these headlines. I urge you to examine what they mean. These stories are a commentary on our values as a society. The fact that they stand out as the top stories of the year, above stories about ordinary people overcoming illness or life-saving rescues, or newly discovered talents and innovations, means something. Often times, we react more to what's wrong in the world, than to what's right, and perhaps that reflects a universal desire to improve our society and to better humanity.
And so, you can look at the stories in the hourglass of 2013 on their face or you can explore what's at their hearts.
The Paula Deen Lawsuit:
How the story goes: A southern belle, celebrity chef's empire "crumbles" when allegations of racism emerge in a lawsuit filed by a former employee. The media maven fights to protect her conglomerate of cookbooks, television shows and carbohydrate infused dishes by tearfully taking to the airwaves begging for forgiveness.
What it means to me: Society's tolerance toward racism has undergone a major transformation. Mere allegations of racist remarks formed a presumption of truth in the minds of many, and sparked widespread outrage. While by no means perfect, it is a far different time than it was in America in the 60s and 70s. Perhaps sensitivity is more prevalent than hate among the masses. There was also a great deal of forgiveness by many. People want to forgive. The human spirit responds to humility and apology (sincere or not).
Death of Nelson Mandela:
How the story goes: After a long fight, a worldwide symbol passes away, leaving behind a legacy of courage and resolve. People marvel at the fact that Nelson Mandela could emerge from a prison term that stole nearly three decades of his freedom, neither angry nor vengeful.
What it means to me: People admire and long to let go of the anger and resentment they experience in their own lives. If a man imprisoned for nearly thirty years can cease to let anger consume him, than "I can too," is the prevailing thought, or, "I wish I could," is the aspiration. Humanity desires role models and above all, peace. Society will cheer for and revere those who have the courage and the discipline to embody the noblest qualities of the human spirit.
A New Pope:
How the story goes: After Pope Benedict XVI historically announces his resignation to selflessly make room for a more robust successor to serve the people, we meet the new Pope -- Francis. A Pope, who makes his own calls, pays his own bills, foregoes luxury living for one of the simplest quarters in the "kingdom" and emphasizes charity and acceptance, shockingly urging the respect for the homosexual community.
What it means to me: In a day and age, over-saturated with celebrity gossip and reality show opulence, humanity desires simplicity and humility. Assistance over competition. People want to do good. We will embrace leaders who motivate the privileged to help the poor. Give, love and accept are more powerful than take, hate and deny. It wasn't long ago that many accused the Church of hypocrisy. This Pope has helped it emerge from past scandals into a new era, where desire drives noble action instead of guilt driving abstention.
I'll stop there because the list is extensive and I'd like you to finish it. Go beyond the headlines, the facts, and the drama. The events of our time are not just stories, they are a roadmap. Every year is a chapter in our collective story, narrating our struggle for hope, justice, decency, forgiveness, love, new birth, acceptance, humility and fairness. The news is a vehicle for society to communicate how it longs to be and a canvass upon which we may paint our values. While we may not all agree, most of us do share the same human values at core. I would truly love and appreciate if you complete my list, or make your own 2013 list and share the meanings you find in the stories you choose.
Take the stories of the past and keep their lessons alive to shape the future. Find common meaning and create purpose -- so that tragedy can inspire triumph. Happy New Year!