Rebecca McKinsey
Rebecca McKinsey

Look for hope.

That was my goal as we all barrelled — or stumbled, or limped — our way into 2017.

Look for hope in people, in situations, in stories.

Hope.

And after a rough start to 2017, I was ripe for it this past week.

And throughout this week, I found hope in three speeches.

Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes acceptance speech.

Barack Obama’s farewell address.

And (although it was last week) Michelle Obama’s last formal speech as first lady.

Now, stick with me here, because while there’s been plenty of partisan bickering about these addresses, the statements I want to pull from them go beyond politics and can — and should — apply to anyone, particularly in a community like Carroll that cares.

These statements are about hope. They give me hope.

And hope has never been a partisan concept.

Here are a few of the remarks from these three speeches that will stick with me.

First, Streep’s speech:

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. … We have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of empathy.”

It’s possible to lead gently. It’s possible to have empathy as a leader. It’s not as easy, perhaps, but I’ve found, in my admittedly short professional career, that it leads to better results.

On the flip side, a leader who bullies is a recipe for disaster, as any history book, or current news article from around the world, will tell you.

And it’s not just leaders. Anyone who lives out the belief that bullying or belittling others is a way to move ahead has a serious problem. I think anyone can learn from Streep’s reminder that empathy is vital.

“Take your broken heart — make it into art.”

Here, Streep was quoting actress Carrie Fisher, Star Wars’ Princess Leia, who died just after Christmas. I love this quote, as a writer and musician who believes strongly in creativity and also as a resident of Carroll. This city has impressed me during the past few years with its focus on the arts. I believe athletics are vital and have their place (don’t ask me about golf, though) — but the arts are invaluable, and I think the music, art and acting opportunities available to Carroll students will always play an important role in their lives.

Next, Obama’s farewell address, during which the outgoing president implored Americans to accept, respect and support each other — “We weaken … ties when we define some of us as more American than others.”

He spoke about the years and decades of not only legislative changes but changes of heart, which he said sometimes need to span generations before prejudice and discrimination are reduced.

“If our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us needs to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’ … We have to pay attention and listen.”

Living with fear and discrimination toward people who are different won’t change without talking to, and listening to, and learning from them. I believe that with enough of that, and it’ll become clear that different isn’t bad — but the listening has to happen.

“I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees or work for peace and, above all, to look out for each other.”

I joke sometimes that the reason I like animals so much (and by that, I mostly mean my cats) is because there’s no hatred in them. If they’re grumpy, they’ll bite you, but there’s no passive aggression, no prejudice, no malice.

In some ways (except for the human part), you can say the same about children. Kids aren’t born with prejudice — we teach it to them. They’re not born with hatred (even when they poop on us). I’ve learned so much from young children who would never treat their black, Hispanic, hijab-wearing or wheelchair-using classmates as someone to look down on, make fun of, dislike or fear. They should inspire us.

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace. You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

As a member of the millennial generation, I’ve gotten plenty of flak. Some of us likely deserve some of the millennial stereotypes and jokes that are thrown around, but plenty more in this generation don’t get the credit they deserve (don’t even start with the snarky remarks about the participation trophies that we never asked for anyway).

This comment reminded me of a conversation I had in February with Jill Tiefenthaler, a Breda native who now works as president of Colorado College.

“I love millennials,” she said. “They are creative, they go around the problem, they figure out the problem, they’re so respectful and they love adults, they love mentoring because they like their parents — and that’s not true for our generation, really. They care about the environment, they care about balanced life, they’re a very accepting and tolerant generation — so there are lots of wonderful things about millennials.

“I am extremely optimistic that they’re going to help us sort out these problems that we have in this country.”

And that mindset led into the ideas Michelle Obama shared last week in her last official speech as first lady. During much of the address, she spoke to America’s young people.

“So to the young people here, and the young people out there — do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter. Or like you don’t have a place in our American story, because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are.”

She discussed the power of hope — hope for the future, hope born in the idea that the problems many of America’s young people face today might not be quite as bad down the road.

“So don’t be afraid — do you hear me? Young people, don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered. … Lead by example with hope, never fear.”

I think anyone can learn from these statements, and anyone can draw hope from them, as I did during this week.

That’s what I’m going to continue to look for this year.

Hope.