As I reflect on all that transpired in 2016, and as I look ahead to the new year, I hope — as I’m certain many people do — to see a significant restoration of gratitude and respect in our country. After nearly two years of a bitter election, it seems that we’ve in many ways forgotten these essential qualities as a nation.
Anger, cynicism, and fear have replaced respect and gratitude for many people, leading to division and far-reaching cultural consequences that are manifesting in a variety of ways.
The tone of the latest election cycle, from the primaries to the general elections, from local to national races, was worse than any we have seen before. Demonstrations of disrespect by candidates and their advisers toward their opponents, nonstop media coverage of all the negativity, and endless pitting of one group against the other became the new norm. It was rare to see or hear about positive events on the news or in our social feeds; criticism and pessimism overshadowed any signs of optimism and hope.
This lack of respect goes beyond politics. It’s occurring across our society to a degree we haven’t seen in years, if not decades. It’s happening in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, and around the world. It’s affecting the relationships between children and their parents, students and teachers, police officers and citizens, constituents and their elected government leaders.
Sadly, we continue to see extreme examples of disrespect in the senseless shootings and attacks that have taken the lives of too many innocent people.
There clearly has been a breakdown of basic regard for one another, and if we continue on this path, it’s going to lead to a fundamental breakdown of our society.
The good news, however, is that we each have the opportunity to set a different, better example that can help correct this course. All of us together can make a big impact.
It starts with showing respect — because as much as we all want to be respected, we have to first earn it by demonstrating it through our own words and actions. We need to lead by example, teaching our children to show deference to their teachers, caregivers, coaches, parents, and elders, as well as their families, homes, and the law.
We need to empower people like our police officers to do the jobs they’re hired to do and respect that they’re putting their lives on the line every day. At the same time, we need to require that they, too, show respect for every person they encounter.
We need to respectfully reject disrespectful behavior when we see it and instead encourage each other to find common ground. It’s shocking to me, for instance, when I hear people mocking our past, present, and future presidents. While it’s appropriate to disagree with someone’s point of view on one or multiple issues, it’s inappropriate to attack an individual as a whole.
One great practice is to first list all the good, positive things an individual has accomplished, and demonstrate gratitude and respect for that, as opposed to sharing only what we don’t agree with and find unacceptable.
Gratitude is an inherent element of giving and receiving respect. When we take the time to show appreciation for all that is going well in our lives, in our communities, in our country, it changes us psychologically. In fact, research has found that when we practice gratitude, it improves satisfaction and negates the effects of unhealthy behaviors like greed, jealousy, taking things for granted, and feeling entitled.
Gratitude shifts our mindset in a more positive direction and helps us see the good — in our own lives and in those around us. Despite our differences on particular issues, we begin to recognize, appreciate, and respect others. We notice and acknowledge the positive contributions of each individual.
So in the New Year, I hope you’ll join me in committing to promote, give, and call for respect, and to noticing all there is to be grateful for. Let’s make it a priority to focus on what’s good, what’s right, and what’s positive.
Because collectively, every positive word we speak and every positive action we take — no matter how big or small it might be — can help rebuild the foundation of a more generous, accepting, loving, grateful, and respectful society. That’s something we can be proud to pass on to the next generation.