For auld lang syne

Closing the bulging manila file on 2016 will be a relief to many. But, with the ink still damp on the tab marked “2017”, it is hard to avoid a nagging concern about what will fill it.

It is easy to be disheartened. But human affairs on every level are as prone to changing for the better as they are for the worse. This is, in part, because we as individuals and as a species are able to learn, value our advantages, avoid errors and find solutions.

The world as a whole still produces far more material resources than it needs and no end of untapped ideas. Democratic institutions generally function well, despite their missteps. Very few seriously contest their central role in the future.

The checks on democratic power can still minimise the cost of representatives’ errors, restraining moves which unjustly harm people’s interests. Votes cast in a bid to assuage negative feelings can be shifted to viable solutions through listening and persuasion.

We are not locked into an unalterable course as individuals or as societies. What we need are attractive alternatives. Their source is the recognition of common interests, alliances, goodwill and ingenuity. Their attractiveness will only increase if they benefit long chains of interests.

Working for such solutions is not a dreary task, coming with a unique payoff: happiness. Happiness comes, numerous studies find, from our feelings of connection, cooperation and capacity to rebound from mishap. Our buzz comes from building, not hoarding or demolition.

Our world of artificial division, knockabout debate and dented confidence offers fertile ground for initiatives, large and small, founded on more accurate analysis. We all have the chance to receive the rewards of contributing through our curiosity, thought, action and influence.

So, for auld lang syne, for old time’s sake, and for new, there is good reason to look forward to 2017. There is no certainty its opportunities will be taken, but they will certainly be there.