To be honest, 2016 sucked. Considering the myriad of terror attacks, vast array of natural disasters, continued spread of the zika and ebola viruses, growth in the size and strength of ISIS and the rise of the alt-right nationalistic, white power supremacists in political spheres within North America and Europe, it’s hard to find nice things to say about this calendar year. In fact, this year will likely go down in history books as “The Year of Crap: Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse, It Did.”

It’s been hard to live through this year. The struggle has been emphasized by the media to the point that it has pervasively invaded even the most mundane tasks in our daily lives, a constant reminder of our Earth’s decline. The resulting environment of negativity has fostered a common attitude of defeat, an attitude permeating throughout the globe, an attitude wherein hope is stifled and fear festers.

This attitude is not only dangerous, it’s blinding. It leaves the common individual wondering why the world is like this and how we can continue to exist like this. Perhaps more than anything, it leaves one asking what can possibly be done to foster optimism and rekindle the hope that has been so deprived of nourishment throughout 2016.

Dear readers, dear friends: do not fret. There are so many things that can be done to restore this hope, to shape our societies into ones of progression rather than regression.

First and foremost, we can use our voices; we can stand up and cry for the right to live in peace and to enjoy human existence. We may not always be heard, and we may seldom be listened to; yet if enough of us rally against the bigotry, xenophobia, discrimination and hate that has been allowed to reign this year, then these things will eventually be eliminated from common rhetoric.

Though the task is daunting, it is by no means impossible, and even the simplest of statements can lead to significant results. Start holding your friends accountable for derogatory comments and defending ‘the other,’ rather than succumbing to xenophobic mob mentality. I urge all to engage in dialogue, to have those hard conversations and remember that every mind changed, every attitude shifted from exclusive to inclusive may contribute to the building of a more hopeful future.

Even more than this, start sharing articles on social media; read them thoroughly, fact check them and ensure that their content is accurate, rather than biased and distorted. It’s time to restore the integrity of our media as a viable source of information. We can do this by refusing to settle for “click-bait” articles that serve no purposes other than diluting news sites with sensation pieces and reinforcing the biases of those not committed to seeking accurate information. Don’t shy from the challenges of those who disagree with you, encourage conversation and know how to justify your statements and arguments. Understand why the prevalence of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and justice will be beneficial to our world.

The passage to progress and hope doesn’t stop there. To truly be impactful, our statements and speeches should be reinforced with actions. Reach out to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofits, charities and peace-building organizations. Present yourself as an ally, as an individual ready to help shape a more peaceful future. Whether or not you have the time and resources to physically volunteer or organize fundraisers, actively verifying your existence as a supporter of the common cause is essential in developing more accepting and hopeful communities.

Finally, I urge you all to be inquisitive in your nature and existence. Refuse to accept the directives you are given without proper justification and logical reason. Do not cower in the shadow of our leaders—politicians, diplomats and representatives—simply because we have been told that ‘they know best.’ Frankly, it’s not always the case that those ranked highly understand the needs and lives of those below them.

This year sucked, but let’s use it as a catalyst for change, rather than a justification for desolation. It’s time to speak out and take action, to accept our social and moral responsibilities to actively pursue a better future for all. It’s time for us to challenge our leaders, hold them accountable for their mistakes and demand reconciliation, rather than continued conflict. It’s time to stand up for hope even when we are told to sit down, and refuse to accept that the future will continue to be as bleak as this past year. Now is the time to accept the challenge and do these things. I’m going to, will you join me?

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