Make 2016 A Better Year For All Our Brothers and Sisters

The holiday tables have been cleared, and the gifts have been unwrapped. Yet as we gather with family and friends to celebrate the end of one year and the hopeful beginning of another, we don't reflect on the items that were given and received or the dishes served at dinner. We look at our families, our children and grandchildren, and find ourselves thankful for the moments we have together. We are thankful for our ability to provide and protect, thankful for the love we share, and even in moments of grief or despair, thankful to find solace in unity.

We are thankful for the hopeful voices and events of 2015 - a Pope whose universal message of economic justice and human dignity spans religious and geopolitical boundaries; the Black Lives Matter movement that celebrates the contributions and resilience of Black lives as it campaigns against mass incarceration and other manifestations of racial injustice; the Supreme Court decision requiring that all states honor same-sex marriages; the Paris Climate Change Protocol.

However, 2015 also witnessed some unsettling currents in America rising to the surface. Our televisions, computers, and newspapers are rife with angry, fearful rhetoric that attacks the very values we pride ourselves on -- the undermining of Democratic traditions by voter suppression, corporate and billionaire campaign spending; shameless calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States, to build walls along our southern border; dishonest attacks on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood's funding; gun violence. We watch as friends and neighbors are divided and dehumanized; we listen as our children and grandchildren ask, "Why."

As parents and grandparents, we can acknowledge the high and low points of our history. We can warmly recall national celebrations and momentous triumphs, accomplished through ingenuity, determination, and resolve. And, in somber tones, we can share lessons that remind us of the dangers of forgetting our humanity. These reflections should enable us to respond with a balanced perspective to our children's questions and concerns. Beyond that, however, we need to be alert to other divisive currents. Those same voices that even children can recognize as being too ready to divide people by faiths, ethnicities, races, and nationalities are subtlety pushing to divide Americans by generation and income level.

Here, those voices kindle fears that meeting the needs of older Americans will hurt the young, and that helping low-income communities will somehow cripple our middle class. These simplistic and adversarial formulas have been discredited by our history, which is replete with advances in which an undivided America acted for the common good.

America, at its best, recognizes we are all one human family. In this new year, we remember victims in Mali, Paris, San Bernardino, and Syria, and we commit to uniting America with mature judgment, not blind fear, to be a force for advancing justice and peace.

Eric Kingson, professor of social work at Syracuse University and co-founder of Social Security Works, is a candidate for the House of Representatives in New York's 24th Congressional District. His most recent book (co-authored with Nancy J. Altman) is "Social Security Works: Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and Why Expanding It will Help Us All"