A quick glance at 2016’s biggest headlines and last year can easily be labelled as one of the worst. Indeed, this politically, socially and economically volatile year has seen the UK voting to leave the European Union, Donald Trump winning the US Presidential election, and numerous terrorist attacks, fuelled by hatred.
2016 was a year characterised by death: more than 13,500 innocent civilians have been killed in Syria this year; hundreds have died at the hands of terrorists during attacks in Brussels, Istanbul, Nice, Orlando, Jakarta and Berlin; MP Jo Cox was murdered outside her home. Combined with countless celebrity deaths this year, from Alan Rickman to George Michael, David Bowie to Muhammed Ali, it is understandably difficult to view 2016 any way other than negatively.
But we must not overlook last year’s many successes. Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his Oscar, whilst the Rio Olympics saw many individual and national achievements. Great Britain gave their greatest performance to date, whilst Fiji and Kosovo won their first ever Olympic Medals. The introduction of a Refugee Olympic Team also enabled the participation of those previously unable to compete.
In spite of terrorism, crime rates are falling both in Britain and worldwide. In El Salvador, one of the most murderous countries in the world, murder rates declined by nearly 50%, with June being the lowest month for homicide in years.
For Science, 2016 was a positive year. Ground-breaking technology such has mind controlled prosthetic arms is an important advance in aiding amputees. Solar powered plane, Solar Impulse 2, concluded its circumnavigation of the globe, and species such as the Giant Panda, Green Sea Turtle and Humpback Whale are no longer endangered. In medicine, last year saw the creation of the Ebola vaccine which was 100% effective in the 5800 people who received it before coming into contact with Ebola patients. And remember that ALS Ice Bucket Challenge we were all doing back in 2014? Well this year scientists found the gene responsible for ALS.
Perhaps these positives do not outweigh the death, intolerance and loss of hope which 2016 has brought. However, we simply cannot judge an entire year based upon global events, political developments or celebrities. The individual perspective is essential. For hundreds of thousands of people, 2016 was the year they got married, had children, graduated, secured a promotion or achieved a personal goal. Of course, these aren’t events which have affected the world, but will most likely affect that person’s life far more than Brexit.
But much like marriage, parenthood and employment, many of last year’s major events are not confined to 2016. The election of Trump and Brexit, for example, are a result of what came before this year, just as their effects will be felt long after it. Furthermore, the success of a Leave campaign based on scapegoating and fearmongering, and the lowest US election turnout in twenty years despite Trump’s appeal as a non-politician, highlight the increase in political disengagement and post-truth politics. These aren’t issues, which have disappeared now we have entered 2017, but issues that we must continue to address.