The End Of 2016. Not The End Of The World. Some reflections by ICDI’s director

Finally some good news at the end of 2016: Bana al-Abed, a 7-year old girl from Aleppo, was evacuated to safety. Dubbed a modern-era “Anne Frank”, Bana became famous through her Twitter account, from which she send heartbreaking messages from the besieged city. Her Twitter account went silent some time ago when government troops went in for their final push to oust the rebel forces. Many feared Bana had been killed, so the relief was palpable when the news broke she was evacuated. Bana, whose nickname “Anne Frank” could not have been more inadequately chosen, not because the max. 140 characters Twitter allows is incomparable to the literature that the real Anne produced in her diary, but because Anne never had a bus that could have taken her to safety.

Sorry. I should not have said that last part. It sounds cynical. It sounds as if I want to spoil the good news. Sorry.

We need good news. We crave for good news after a year that many will describe and have experienced as an “annus horribilis”. Or, in plain English, as a really, really bad year. With as its summit, its pique one could say (to stay in the Christmas spirit), the first election of a fascist as president of the USA. Yes, it’s true, a fascist is now leading the most powerful country in the world. I am not one to make predictions, but I will give you this one: if you think Trump may not turn out too bad, I can assure you: he will be even worse.

Once again: sorry.

This is the time of year we need some good dose of optimism. It always is, at least for those of us who celebrate Christmas and New Year. But this year especially so. After all the trouble that seems to have hit the world, we want some f…ing good news, and we will take it any which way we can. This sparks another tradition: the optimistic, feel good, “everything will turn out allright”, “yes, it may have been bad, but it will surely get better”, “let’s sit cosily around the Christmastree and forget the bad world outside exists”, reflexes and reactions that are abound. Expect many more good news stories in the coming weeks, they are inevitable.

So, here is my contribution:

Last year I visited two countries that are experiencing huge levels of social strive. Still, I came back more optimistic than I went.

First I went to Pakistan, a country that has basically been at war with its neighbour India and with itself since it was born, back in 1947. It’s a strictly muslim country, where the clergy, fundamentalists, the army and the rich elite work together (not offically of course) to keep it’s 200 million citizens under control. It’s a country where personal freedom is almost non-existent, and those who try and claim it for themselves can get into a lot of trouble, even die. Yet, when I was there I saw many girls (and boys!) who manage to carve their own way in life. And who, by doing so, actually are changing society. Slowly, of course. Bit by bit and with many setbacks, but still, change is coming.

The other country I visited was Ukraine, which has been ripped apart by a brutal, senseless war, a war that many in the world now seem to have forgotten, but which is costing thousands of lives. More than a million Ukrainians have left their homes, internal refugees, many of whom are children. In the atmosphere of war it is easy to get swept away on waves of hatred and nationalism. But also here I saw many people, young people and adults too, who refuse to give into these pressures, and who maintain a positive outlook on life and on the “others”. They show incredible resilience in the face of adversity. It is a sight to behold, it truly is.

O.k., how did you like those stories? Were they optimistic enough? Did they make you feel a little bit better about mankind and about the world? I hope they did.

But that’s not where I want to end. I am not sure what my real aim is here, I really am not. I felt, for whatever reason, that it was time for some end of year reflections. Maybe because 2016 is a year that needs a lot of reflection. Maybe I felt obliged to at least say something about this year. But I don’t want it to be a tale that only preaches optimism as the antidote against all that is evil. That we all just need to be positive and move forward and that everything will be fine and dandy. Somehow that would not reflect how I feel, and also not what I feel is really needed.

The saying that stuck most with me this year was this one: “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.” We seem to live in a world torn apart by extremes, the middle ground is lost. You are either a complete naive optimist, or a complete cynical bastard. Both are leading to very bad outcomes, but if you say something to that effect you risk being killed by either side (or at least somebody will insult you on the internet!). Still, that is I think the thing I want to get across here: that it is really time for some critical, hopeful thinking. Instead of just waiting for good news, let’s start doing that this time of year, this year.

Yesterday Bana al-Abed was evacuated to safety from Aleppo. From now on she hopefully will be able to lead a life in more peaceful circumstances.

Yesterday a truck drove into an unsuspecting audience at a Christmas market in the German capital Berlin. A terrorist attack that left twelve people dead and many more wounded.

And that is just some of the news. Be sad, be hopeful. There’s enough reason to be.

Mathijs Euwema,  child psychologist & director of International Child Development Initiatives