In Praise of New Year’s Resolutions
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. – Immanuel Kant
As we turn the calendar it is natural to wonder what this year will bring. Of course we cannot know what the future holds – who could have predicted the stories that dominate retrospective news reports on the top stories of 2010 – but we do know things will change. Life is dynamic. There will be progress and regression, disaster and triumph, sadness and delight. Surprise dominates, but the agony, for the most part, will find you of its own accord while the ecstasy has to be initiated. So that’s a good reason for some annual introspection and perhaps a well-crafted resolution or two.
But looking beyond our own immediate personal interests, it’s also a good time to think about the world around us. What is it becoming and what would we like it to become? It’s easy to feel that we cannot influence the grand course of events, but someone will, and if it’s not us then the future that is forged by those who do take action may very well not be to our liking. You can be sure that somewhere others are hard at work trying to change some of the things you hold most dear. If, as Yeats observed in the aftermath of the First World War, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” then we should indeed worry about “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.”
That is not to say that we should all immediately start forming Facebook action groups and joining political parties – although, hopefully, some of us will – but it does mean that we should all be overt and intentional about our values and take action within our sphere of influence to actively promote and enact those values. In the end, it’s neither the Nelson Mandela’s nor the Osama bin Laden’s who change the world, it’s the people whom they inspire to do things differently within their own lives.
And this is true not just of changing things but also of preserving things. Like our relationships, the good things about our schools and our communities do not just sustain themselves. It takes constant attention to preserve what we value. It may be true of carburetors or plumbing that if it ain’t broke you shouldn’t fix it, but laissez-faire is the death knell for human endeavours. That which is neglected, decays.
So what are you grateful for and what would you prefer? There is no better time than now to give that some careful thought – and then to do something to reinforce what you value or influence what you regret. It can be small but it must be specific, and it’s even better if you recruit a couple of friends. Then, if they tell two friends, and they tell two friends and … well, you never know what might happen.