The ringing in of a new year is a ritual of such optimism. No matter how hard the previous year was, no matter how beaten down we feel, most of us will still lift a glass and toss a handful of confetti into the air to celebrate the arrival of 2014. We use the turning over of the calendar as an excuse to stop our work and turn to those we love, renew our commitment to a good life, and affirm our courage to change the things we can.
2013 draws to a close with a congressional approval rating in the single digits. No matter which side of the political fence we sit on, the great majority of women have lost faith in our elected leaders. In the aftermath of the shameful gun control debate, and the global embarrassment of this fall’s government shutdown, we are left with little confidence that our government is a vector of positive change. We are weary of headlines that amount to partisan pissing contests. Even as I add my name to the roster of women proclaiming my support for Hilary’s presidential run, I find myself betting little on what my country can do for me.
At the same time, thanks in part to social media, the collective consciousness of our Big Problems is greater than ever. In contrast to a year ago, the conversation about wealth inequality and its sweeping, lasting social damage is picking up momentum. With the media dominated by male talking heads, I find women along all points of the political spectrum drawing on our nurturing nature and wondering, what do we do to help the poor? Our country is suffering, but our federal government gets a vote of no confidence to effect change.
As 2014 approaches, we may have given up on Congress – but we are not giving up on change. Two weeks ago, I attended a standing-room-only affordable housing forum, at Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose. A broad spectrum of San Jose residents gathered with two city council members to formulate a plan that brings affordable housing to our beloved city. Housing is nothing short of a crisis in San Jose, where rents are now higher than even Manhattan. We are not waiting for the feds or even the state to take action. We are ready to act locally. When the headlines do nothing but create anxiety, it is inspiring to look to my left and my right and see that my neighbors have not given up. The momentum for change is shifting down into our communities.
For me, personally, I’ve set 2014 as the year that I break down the barriers I’ve created for myself by treating my assumption as truths. Assumptions make us comfortable. They provide handy excuses for inaction by telling us that we can’t – so we don’t have to face the much more daunting reality that we choose not to. Professionally and personally, I have grown tired of my own complaints about things that I “have to do” because I have no choice. Breaking out of those assumptions is scary. But as the new year approaches, I am affirming my courage to change the things I can. For me, that means taking new risks in my professional career and in my personal relationships – risks with the potential for immense rewards. And it means re-committing myself to be part of the stewardship of our country and our world – stepping out of the box where I justify inaction and detachment by declaring it all a waste of time.
I don’t know what the results of this effort will be. But as a good friend once said to me, all the divine can ask of us is that we try. In 2014, I will raise my glass and try to make the world a better place – starting with the world inside my own home, and expanding outward. Strangely, even with the weight of the world’s headlines bearing down, I feel more determinedly optimistic about my own life in 2014 than I ever have before, in part because I know I am not alone in that determination.
May we all look forward to this coming year with compassion, energy, optimism – and a recognition that the collective power of a committed group of women should not be underestimated.
Karen White, a SheByShe enthusiast and product management executive, lives in the Bay Area with her partner, two cats, and two daughters. Karen writes regularly about parenting, and other things that make her go hmm, with a Jewish perspective, at her blog Accidental Writer.