A few years ago in my New Year greetings to friends and colleagues, I went on a tirade against the word “happy” in Happy New Year. “What was there to be happy about?” I asked everyone. People (especially children) were dying in violent conflicts around the world; no one (especially powerful nations) was interested in working for peace and individuals (especially the rich and privileged) continued to breathe in their bubble, oblivious to the suffering of the rest of humanity as they screamed in drunken joyfulness “Happy New Year” in midnight celebrations. My email greeting that year was definitely angry, depressed and sad.
2013 was no different for most of the world – even as we usher in this new year, 2014, we have reports coming in of children being beheaded in war (attention Central African Republic), homeless people suffering in the bitter cold (attention Japan), unchecked rapes and unsympathetic responses to “victims” (attention India, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo and everywhere), child soldiers unwelcome into families (attention Colombia), LGBTQ communities (attention Uganda) spewed with hate…the list goes on. I wonder if you have lost a child to senseless violence in 2013, would you want someone to scream “Happy New Year” to you on Jan 1, 2014? Leave the past behind and begin fresh? Without your child? Really?
I am not questioning whether we should be happy ringing in 2014 or that we dare hope that it is personally a better year for each one of us than 2013 but it is in the display of unbridled joyous celebrations at the time of ushering the New Year wherein lies my problem. To me, it seems almost insensitive and definitely unnecessary. Yes, some of us do have a lot to be grateful for or at least the fortitude to look forward to better times in the New Year. But, can we make the effort to celebrate in moderation (taking the time to define what moderation means for us) our gratitude for all the good that came our way in 2013? And then STOP? As I watch mobs with champagne bottles in hand, jump up and down screaming as they usher in the New Year, all I want is to do is to beg them to spare a thought for the people who were seeking protection from bullets, shells and drones at that very same minute. And I ask that when you are standing in freezing temperatures, bundled up in the best of winter coats, boots, scarves and hats to usher in the New Year, take a moment to remember all those for whom New Year’s Eve is nothing but just another very cold night out in the open with no accessories to protect them. Just cutting back a tiny bit on our excesses could keep someone warm all through 2014. And sometimes, just pausing a little in our display of extreme “happiness” (I suspect it is a display of happiness as defined by the culture of the privilege than real happiness) goes a long way in showing respect for those who cannot celebrate or leave behind the traumas of 2013.
I live amongst a community of entitled; I am surrounded by human beings who have no qualms or maybe no awareness of how much privilege they have and for whom spending life indulging in excesses is the norm. I know that my perception of the world’s sorrows through their lens of privilege gives me a skewed image of the universe, making me angry, sad and depressed all over again about this year’s celebrations. With that caveat, I would say to my immediate community and others who are as privileged as them “I wish you the best for 2014 but I wish more that you would be able to acknowledge your privilege and I wish even more that you do not see the need to flaunt your “happiness” even if it goes against your peer culture, when there is so much sadness and pain in the world.”
Best wishes for creating a more humane 2014.