Having been tucked away in the closet of winter, nature’s instruments of hope recently re-emerged in the Washington, DC area. A symphony of cherry blossom, magnolia, and dogwood trees entered unto the spring stage. Alongside this orchestra of flowering white and pink, was a choir of signing birds, dogs chasing balls, giggling children at play, kites dotting the sky. I breathed in the sights and sounds of that auditorium of splendour, considering the magic of possibilities.

I imagined you, the reader, by my side, as we shared impressions together, hatched ideas as we walked and observed. Many leaders have rightfully put an urgent focus on the environment, climate action, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As we speak of protecting a rapidly changing natural environment, we must also include an assessment of the social and political environment.

There is clear evidence that the emissions of damaging tones and dialogue in politics is sparking conflict, heightening anxiety, and undermining a climate of social cohesion.

Surely, we can hold individuals accountable who litter our airwaves and pollute our communities with their words. For those perpetrators of this type of climate damage who hail from the political class, our vote in a liberal democracy is a powerful tool to demand better.


Rainbow lanyard ban: how did Scotland get here?

One troubling and divisive shift in tone relates to the demonisation by some of immigrants who are fleeing economic poverty, social unrest, and searching for shores of safety. These individuals and families are experiencing significant turmoil and instability. Some leaders will turn on them to cast blame for economic and social ills.

While immigration and migration are genuine policy challenges that require reform and substantive bi-partisan solutions, placing blame on the shoulders of the vulnerable for political gain is not representative of a compassionate society.

It is also not befitting the standards of tone that we should demand of wise elected officials and public servants. Rather than casting blame or suggesting that immigrants and migrants are criminals or vagrants, we should lead with respect, sensitivity, concern for their well-being, and pay homage to their resiliency.

Immigrants, migrants, and refugees have a strength of character, desire, and courageous will that is an example to all. I have seen these traits in immigrants in the US, Scotland, and the wider UK. I have the opportunity to support and coach a local high school tennis team in Virginia. I often say to the players that the best part of my day is to see them arriving on the court. Just as countless teenagers around the world, these youth in Virginia are lights. I am struck by how many immigrants stories these players have.

Recently, we gathered briefly after a practice and informally talked about our connections to places like Uganda, Scotland, Germany, Peru, England, South Korea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, and other locations. I sensed in one bright young woman a genuine hesitancy to admit her family’s immigrant story. Somewhere along the way she had come to the conclusion that the word immigrant was not a positive one. We all then then talked about how the word and the people it describes is something to celebrate and revere. They are hearing noise from some leaders that disparages immigrants, and so some have fear to speak about their stories.


A ban on anti-abortion vigils? That makes perfect sense

As I consider the hopeful possibilities that spring stirs, I reflect on a discouraging reality. In America, Scotland, and the UK, people are tired of the clamour and clatter of overzealous partisanship. This behaviour is starving the growth of seeds that can blossom into progress. A poll last year by the Pew Research Center that asked individuals how they felt about politics and government was alarming. That poll showed that 8 in 10 Americans associate a negative word with politics.

A massive factor for this is that those who seek office or hold it, regularly use extreme negativity and discordant tones. Still, I am hopeful because I know there are people like you and me who see the value of lifting others, caring for people in need, and nurturing human potential. Let’s keep springing forward together down that path – undeterred by those who aim to deter.

Ian Houston has spent his career as an advocate for diplomacy, trade, poverty alleviation, and intercultural dialogue. He promotes commercial, educational, artistic, and charitable linkages between Scotland, UK, and the US. He is an Honorary Professor at the University of the West of Scotland and honorary Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. He is located in the Washington, DC area.