Let's Make 2017 Less Terrible Together, OK?

Remember to be kind to each other.
Publish date:
December 28, 2016

Well, homechickens, it's been a long road together. When the inestimable and amazing Lesley Kinzel popped up in my inbox in September 2011, asking if I was interested in joining this new site she was working on, I said, "sure, why not." After jumping up and down and screaming and calling my best friend to tell him I had email from LESLEY FREAKING KINZEL IN MY INBOX OH MY GOD.

Lesley, Emily, and Jane changed my life, both personally and professionally. They took a chance on someone who wasn't that well known because they apparently thought there was potential lurking in there somewhere, and through them I met amazing people and did amazing things. I wrote some pretty great stuff under Lesley's watchful eye, and also some pretty terrible stuff (which wasn't her fault), and I learned a lot along the way.

I also met really fantastic people, like my pals Louise Hung, Claire Lower, Alison Freer, Marianne Kirby, Daisy, and many other contributors past and present. Not everyone can say they've devoured mysterious foods in the Mission with Claire Lower or chased down cemetery cats in Japan with Louise Hung, but I have, and it is 100 percent worth it. Ultimately, I ended up being one of the longest (possibly the longest?) continuous standing contributors to xoJane.

I could make this a boring elegy to my time at xoJane, but I would rather look forward, because that's so much of what my life and work is about. I talk about grim and depressing and terrible things because they matter to me, and because I want things to be different. And I dork around sometimes for the same reason, because the world cannot be relentlessly awful. Whether I'm baking cookies in the name of science or interviewing people about changing attitudes to caregiving, I'm trying to learn something about the world.

I think we've all established at this point that 2016 has been a shit year for a lot of reasons. And as the clock ticks down on the rise of 2017, I'm thinking about how to make 2017 less terrible, for ourselves and for each other. Because it's clear that it's happening whether we like it or not, and the only we are going to get through is by sticking together. That doesn't mean subverting our identities and needs to some "greater cause," but it does mean backing each other up — everyone is fighting a hard fight, but it's a lot easier if you have someone to hold your shield.

It may sound cheesy, but if there is one thing we take away from 2016, I think it should be this: We have an imperative to be kind to one another.

Kindness starts revolutions. You may think of kindness as something soft and squishy and sweet and harmless, like a little fluffy bunny, but let me tell you something: Bunnies don't play.

I don't mean kindness like turning the other cheek or having sympathy for deplorable people who hate us, because sometimes, you must be cruel in order to be kind. Be the ferocious advocate who shows up when your friend pings you for backup. Be that person who drops everything and whisks off to another state when someone needs you. Be that person who shows up with soup and your Netflix password when someone's having a terrible day.

Be that person who finds a sliver of common ground and leverages it to have a discussion — something I have been doing a lot this year, and something I would highly recommend. Sometimes you accomplish more with stealth and subtlety than you do coming in with righteous guns blazing. You might be surprised by the results.

But also? Be that person who holds people accountable. If you're in a position of power, be kind: Use that position to do something with that power, whether it's questioning a discriminatory policy at work or introducing new legislation. We know that microaggressions are death by a thousand cuts, but kindnesses can go the other way. Don't be silent in the face of oppression and cruelty. Don't tolerate foolishness and hatred. This, too, is kindness.

Run of the mill small kindnesses mean more than you ever know, and don't forget that. Buy coffee for the EMT behind you in line. Pay a vet bill when you see someone in a panic about how to afford care for their beloved family member. Say a friendly thing to someone on Twitter. Invite those Mormon missionaries to sit down and have some pasta. Slip some cash under the door of the food bank. Send a handwritten letter. Knit sweaters for penguins. Socialize kittens at the humane society. You do what you've got to do. Every month, every week, pick a small kindness. That painfully earnest "practice random acts of kindness" bumper sticker that makes you roll your eyes every time you see it? Embrace the sentiment even if drivers with that bumper sticker do appear categorically incapable of signaling.

If you have more to give, pick a bigger act of kindness. Foster children who need a safe and loving place to call home. Work on a crisis hotline and advocate for trans and disability-inclusive policies. Run for office. Start a charitable organization. Challenge the status quo in your industry. Go to every city council meeting and be that annoying person who's constantly talking during comment periods.

If you haven't found your people yet, find them, or let them find you. Because the world is a pretty dark and terrible place without people in your court. I know I'll be spending Saturday night with my found and chosen family, and I hope you are too.

For over a decade, I've carried a reminder on my neck: ἀρετή, it tells me. It's often simplistically translated as "excellence," but the Greeks took it on as a larger civic virtue. It's about being involved with society around you. About holding yourself to a higher standard. About using what you have to do good, and living up to the fullest potential of the person you can and should be. If I can't look at myself in the mirror every morning and be proud of whom I am and what I am doing, I'm doing it wrong. If I cannot be excellent in all things, it's time to sit down and reevaluate my life choices. I expect the same from others.

I suspect we'll meet again, gentle readers. It's been real, and you can always follow me on the Facebooks, the Twitters, and the Instagrams. In the meantime, as advised by Abraham Lincoln in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, "be excellent to each other."