2016 was a year many people would gladly forget. The question is, "What will it take to make 2017 better?"
Thousands of victims of international terrorism, mass-migration, the Iran deal, the Zika virus, Brexit stuns the UK, Donald Trump stuns the US and the entire world, fascism, marijuana becomes legal, climate-crisis, earthquakes in Italy, cyber hacking, Wikileaks--2016 was a year many people would gladly forget. The question is, "What will it take to make 2017 better?"
If I had to summarize 2016 in a few words, I would use one of the most fundamental terms in Kabbalah to describe it: "recognition of evil." In layperson's terms we might call it, "a year of rude awakening."
During last year, we have come to realize that our economic, social, and security situations are so dire that we need a drastic change. As a result, we have upset the political systems in the US, the UK, Italy, and are expected to continue doing so throughout 2017 in the rest of Europe. The problem is that our rude awaking is painful, yet offers no solution. It forces us to veer off from the current path but it does not offer us alternatives. The evident results are despair, depression, extremism, and violence.
Unlike rude awakenings, recognition of evil is a positive process where we recognize the noxious element in our lives because we have already chosen a path that will rid us of it. Recognizing the evil is the diagnosis of a disease to which we have a cure, and we can choose whether, and to what extent to apply it. Therefore, I prefer to define the realizations of 2016 as recognition of evil rather than a rude awakening, since there is definitely a cure for the state of our global village, and it is up to us if we want to apply it in 2017, or wait a little longer and suffer a lot more before we do.
The Common Culprit
Since the turn of the century, a growing number of studies and books have been published, describing humanity's spreading narcissism epidemic. The ego has taken over our lives, and we are finding it increasingly harder to be considerate of others. The impact of narcissism reaches every level of society, from our relations with our friends and family to the international arena.
But there is good news: The sovereignty of the ego is declining. After millennia of becoming increasingly egoistic and exploitative of one another, the narcissism epidemic that has plagued humanity has brought us to the brink of war, and has placed us on the verge of a climate catastrophe. Now, when we say that it is not enough to curb CO2 emissions or increase financial regulation, reality supports our claim. People are beginning to realize what we really need to change is our own egoistic nature. There are no winners anymore in our endless ego wars.
Robotics: The New Bully on the Block
In recent years, "a new bully" has moved into the block. Within the next few years, robotics will render tens of millions of people permanently jobless, not for lack of motivation or skill, but because robots will replace them. Absence of work is the future of humanity.
If we wait until permanent joblessness gains traction, instead of preparing for it in advance, the added burden on the already collapsing social fabric might be too heavy to carry and mayhem will ensue. Some countries are already piloting with programs to address the issue, but in the US there is no federal foresight. As far as joblessness is concerned, other than a few private initiatives, nothing is being done to address the need for sustenance among people who cannot find it through a paycheck, and nothing is being done to provide proper engagement for people with overabundant free time.
Egoism will not go away, nor should it. It is inherent within us and is vital to our existence. Instead of trying to suppress it, we need to add to it the awareness that mutual dependency is an even greater source of strength than individuality. Mutual complementation and mutual responsibility have been the essence of the Jewish people since its inception.
The book, Likutey Halachot (Assorted Rules), writes, "The essence of vitality, existence, and correction in creation is achieved by people of differing opinions mingling together in love, unity, and peace." Mingling above our differences is precisely the source of our strength--giving us skills, views, and energy that we could not otherwise obtain.
Similar to the above book, it is written in Likutey Etzot (Assorted Counsels), "The Essence of peace is to connect two opposites. Hence, do not be alarmed if you see a person whose opinion is completely opposite to yours and you think that you will never be able to make peace with him. Or, when you see two people who are completely opposite to each other, do not say it is impossible to make peace between them. On the contrary, the essence of peace is to try to make peace between two opposites." The levels of antagonism plaguing our society today are so high that humanity can reach unprecedented highs if we choose to make peace among us, as the book suggests.
It may seem like a tall order, but this is so because we haven't tried. The minute we take the first step toward unity, the energy released by the union of opposites will be so invigorating that we will not want to stop. I have seen this happening numerous times among my students, and within connection circles that my students have conducted in dozens of countries throughout the world.
The understanding that unity is preferable to individuality is just as inherent as our egoism. Every sports team knows that if it doesn't work as a team, it will not win the championship. Every army unit teaches its soldiers that victory comes through unity, and every company that wants to keep its employees creative supports collaboration among them. Now we need to the next step. We must determine that reciprocity and mutual responsibility are the dominant features in our society. If we do this, and shun the "Me first" attitude, our problems will be over because the pathogen creating them--our narcissism--will be obliterated.
2017 will be a decisive year. If we keep working as we have been, Brexits and new presidents will not help us; our world will crumble, if not this year then in the near future. But if we keep in mind that the key to our success is to "make peace between opposites," as our sages suggest, then 2017 will be the year of the budding of a new humanity.