Can We Make Next Year Better Than Last Year?

Today is New Year’s Day, the first day of 2023. Ordinarily, this day is filled with resolutions, good intentions, and hope for the shiny new year ahead. I don’t know if I’m alone in lacking the optimism I have felt in previous years. The news last year wasn’t terribly uplifting. In fact, much of it was grim. What follows are the top stories of 2022.

After two years of coping with Covid, we entered the third year with 300 million new cases around the world. Added to that were mpox (monkeypox), another rare, highly infectious global disease; the annual flu; and something called Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. 

We watched the destruction of once beautiful Ukraine as this senseless war played out in our living rooms, and we heard the president of Ukraine address both houses of Congress and receive standing ovations from both sides of the aisle.

While the FBI has no official number of mass shootings in the US, the Gun Violence Archive, recorded 641 of them in 2022, including the horrific disaster in Uvalde, Texas, where nineteen children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School.

There were several news items from the UK, some good, some not so good. After seventy years on the throne, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth, died, and prince Charles —the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent in British history—became king. After three turbulent years in power, Boris Johnson resigned as prime minister and head of his party. He was succeeded by Foreign Minister Liz Truss whose tenure lasted forty-two days. Truss was followed by Rishi Sunak, the first person of color and the youngest person to become British prime minister in more than two hundred years.

In a stunning reversal of fifty years of precedent, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected the rights of women to seek abortions, an entitlement women have had since 1973.

After an eighteen-month investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol in which it held ten public hearings, conducted more than one thousand interviews, and collected more than one million pages of material, the House select committee released its final report. The report recommended that former President Donald Trump be criminally prosecuted for his involvement in the insurrection. The panel recommended that the Justice Department pursue at least four criminal charges against Trump related to his alleged efforts to thwart the transfer of presidential power.

Two hurricanes—Fiona and Ian—wreaked damage on Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the state of Florida in the US. Hurricane Ian struck southwest Florida, becoming the deadliest hurricane to hit the state in more than eighty years.

Billionaire and supposed genius Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion and immediately began reorganizing the company, firing large swaths of employees, getting even with journalists who wrote about him, confounding advertisers, and alienating users who want him to leave. He then became the first person ever to lose $200 billion from his net worth, according to a Bloomberg report.

There were other headlines, but most seemed too inconsequential to make the list of significant happenings last year. For example, do a lot of Americans really care that actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard faced off in court, suing each other for defamation … or whom the Jury sided with?

On the other hand, it was good to read that, despite the pandemic and China’s restrictive “zero COVID” policy, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games were still held in Beijing and labeled a success. Another piece of positive news: A pro-democracy movement is growing in Iran. Protests have continued for months despite a deadly crackdown.

New Year’s Day feels like a hyphen between 2022 and 2023. As we look forward, the question is can we do anything to write new headlines for next year, or will we still be reading about disease, war, mass shootings, severe weather events, scandals, and billionaires gone awry? Do we have the power to change anything at all?

I know I said I wasn’t optimistic, but I think the answer is yes. While we can’t change the climate or if some tyrant decides to invade and annex another country or whether a pandemic shows up without warning and starts decimating the population, there are things we can affect. We can stop a pandemic in its tracks by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask. We can reduce the number of senseless mass shootings by making it much harder to own guns. We can elect leaders who reflect our values and stop tolerating the actions of those who sew discord.

But most important, as well as most powerful, we can change ourselves and our attitudes. We can take a good hard look at how we view the world and those who share this planet with us and see where there is room for improvement. Can we do more to be good stewards of the natural world? Can we accept and be kinder to each other? Can we look for solutions rather than dwelling on the problems? Can we realize how precious and brief our lives are and appreciate all that we take for granted?

Will such changes make a difference in the year ahead? I believe they will.