This year has focused in on the worst. It's easy to feel like you're surrounded by racism and misogyny. What already feels like the slowest progression now makes me feel like the next notch up is so distant. Brexit here, and now Trump there - our countries used to be the leading forces of good...or at least we tried to be. In Northern Ireland we managed to stop the constant violence, but what has remained, and what has flourished, is the underlying resentment of those who quite enjoyed the past - who don't have any other function but to seed hatred and division into daily life, albeit with words and not bombs, but anyone who thinks the language you use isn't a weapon is in complete denial.
Hope is always there, however. My father married a strong, independent and educated woman. It was a mixed marriage when such things were still controversial and they both fought hard for their children to not be restricted in thought by old teachings. When we were made to feel 'other than', they showed us how to rise. He parents my sister and I in exactly the same way as our brother. He shows unconditional love through each triumph and disappointment. He has lived through the 2nd World War, the Troubles, and personal losses that would break a normal man, and yet he tells us to remain kind. To keep our hearts and minds open. He sees what's happening around the world as a chance for people to take charge. He recognises the apathy, the emotionally charged election years of people who will shout for progress but won't actually do anything about it, but he's given me hope that the aftershocks throughout our systems might be so great that they force the public to finally take responsibility for who they put into higher offices.
Our Politicians are PUBLIC SERVANTS. Their only job should be to make our lands safe, lawful and open places, filled with possibility and futures for all. Instead of war we should meet the demands for progress elsewhere - build cities instead of pulverising them. Educate our masses. Cure our sick. A child in Syria needing food and water is the same as a child here - we should not need to see broken bodies before we act. We should not allow fear to take over and revenge to be a valid token for action.
You shouldn't need to love your mum in order to care about women's rights. If you have a womb you should get to decide what happens in it. If you're judged unfairly because of the colour of your skin then it should be so shocking and the backlash of such racism so incredibly loud that it never happens again. Your sexuality isn't a debate. Your neighbours, colleagues, strangers on the street all have a responsibility to make you safer, to prevent any breach of not only human rights, but human kindness. We all should be equal - everyone should be able to prosper. Dreaming of a better life shouldn't be simple fiction.
It's not easy. Listen to local radio or TV and it's full of frustratingly childish "Them'uns and Yous'uns." Holding others back until you feel you've gotten your due hasn't been working, has it? Inclusivity feels good. Learning feels great. Being loved feels excellent.
Love. Empathy. Kindness. We all have to get through each day. It's hard. Life can make me feel like I'm sinking. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is covered in dark smog. But insulating ourselves from the unknown, from preventing new experiences and people entering our lives only makes our circles smaller and less informed. Living your life in a bubble is selfish and cruel. Life is about joy, yes - but it's equally about the heartache and what you do after. That's what counts. That's what my father has taught me.