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Telling the tale of 2016: On choosing how to remember the year


As 2016 winds down there has been a lot of talk about what a terrible year it has been, an annus horribilis, if you like (and no, that’s not a Harry Potter spell).

Yet, as an antidote, there have also been the lists generated of the achievements and inspiring moments of 2016, like this one from CNN and this one from SBS. Blogging for The Spectator, Brendan O’Neill goes so far as to tell us why 2016 has actually been one of the greatest years ever for humanity.

Yes, we cried over the loss of far too many amazing talents, our Samsung Galaxies exploded and the hype of Pokémon GO did not quite live up to its initial buzz (although it was in the year’s top 5 of Google search terms). But it is also important to pause and reflect on the breakthrough discoveries, the milestones and even the small acts of human kindness and compassion.

The 24 hour news cycle has got me thinking about which stories we tell, over and over again, and how we collectively choose to remember events that occur in the world. Why do we focus on the shocking, the negative, and the awful seemingly at the expense of any good, inspiring and celebratory moments?

In an age of click bait media and instant gratification, the thirst to be entertained has spilled over into the world of broadcast news. A routine news report is given an explicitly shocking headline in order to get as many ‘hits’ as possible. The statistics of reads, shares, likes and comments are digested with glee by management teams. The problem is the appeal to the lowest common denominator will see ever increasing drama reported, which may shape our view of what the world is like.

The stories we tell about ourselves, our world, and the things we hope for, and the things we fear, influence how we perceive situations, including how we relate to those around us.

We should, at the end of another year, pause and reflect on which stories we spend the most amount of energy, time, and emotion on promoting, propagating, and reinforcing.

I am not suggesting we ignore the negative events that are cause for concern, or that we turn a blind eye to the things that need fixing, as these things (people, events, places…) are all important parts of the conversations we should be having.

However, we need to make room for the inspirational, the good news, and tell stories of wonderful achievements that remind us that we are not helpless. It is these narratives that highlight how we are connected to a global community that is innovative, creative and kind.

I was lucky enough to be involved in reflecting on what has been done well in 2016. Even as the ABC makes further cuts to staff and programs, Radio National’s popular Sunday Extra host Jonathan Green chose to reflect on moments of love rather than loss for his final show.

As one of the invited guests, along with the inspiring Dr Susan Carland, we listed small and large moments worth being grateful for that included Rochelle Courtenay’s charity organisation Share the Dignity; Ludovico Einaudi’s “Elegy for the Arctic”; Syria’s White Helmets and Colombia’s peace deal with FARC.

On this final day of 2016, as we look towards 2017 with hope, let us remember to pause and give thanks for those moments of love, relationship, and peace that did occur in 2016. And, in the new year, let’s consider which stories we are telling and re-telling as the year unfolds.

If we pause before hitting ‘share’ on the click bait and instead ask ourselves which truths we are delivering to an already saturated audience, perhaps the 2016 word of the year, post-truth, can be replaced next year with a word that symbolises community, care, trust and hope.

Happy New Year!

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