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A Thimbleful of Optimism for 2019

Amid today's global conflicts, debasement of public debate, attacks on democratic institutions, and escalating geopolitical tensions, it is hard to find much cause for hope. But it is still possible to restore faith in our shared humanity.

KOLKATA – At the end of this year of political trauma and conflict, I found myself feeling an unexpected sense of hope, sitting in Mumbai, where I could see the Arabian Sea stretching westward toward the Gulf of Aden and Africa, as well as the vast Indian subcontinent extending eastward to the Bay of Bengal and the lands beyond.

To be sure, one must not gloss over the ongoing catastrophes of 2018. In Yemen, millions of civilians, including children, are suffering starvation and indiscriminate violence. On the southern border of the United States, refugees fleeing misery and conflict don’t know if they will be met with sanctuary or bolted gates and tear gas. Around the world, hyper-nationalist politicians and egomaniacs are launching trade wars, stoking hatred, and veering toward fascism.

If I feel optimistic, it must be because, over the last month, I have been on the road, and somewhat sheltered from the news, from the US to Mexico, China, and, now, India. Through it all, I have chatted with roadside vendors, students, and strangers in cafés, and when one does this it is impossible not to be struck by how similar people are across the planet. We may not look, dress, or speak the same, but our shared humanity becomes evident through conversation and interaction. At a time when hatred of the “other” is on the rise, this is comforting.