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25 January, 2010

New year's resolutions

The turning of the year is a pretty ancient thing, something humans have marked in various ways as far back as human memory extends. It's a psychological "moment" when it seems as though we should start anew. Or that we should be able to start anew. The days are getting longer, even though we know there are months of grey still left to endure, and that seems hopeful. But for ever tale of a new start made along with the new year, there seem to be three or four stories of failure. We want to start anew, but we can't.

Why should we be able to, really? The conditions in the first week of January are not really very different from those in the final weeks of December, except for the psychology of the time, I suppose. I'm not going to gym any more than I did before (in fact, I pretty much fell off the wagon on December, using the holidays as an excuse). I'm not flossing more. I am trying to be more upbeat, but this blog post certainly shows that I havent succeeded much there, either.

The trick must be to try to use the psychological boost that the idea of a new year brings, but to continue to try to do the things we want to do, even when our initial enthusiasm or resolve flags (or fails, outright). Just like we are always being advised by diet gurus and other deities of self-help, we should "forgive" ourselves when we fall short of the higher aspirations we've set for ourselves in the new year. Don't use it as an excuse to give up, not to try. If we are resolving to do something -- not a "new year's" resolution, but a resolution for the new year -- then it ought to last beyond the inevitable let-downs of January.

It's hard not to feel this kind of navel-gaszing is self-indulgent, anyway, when confronted with the situation in a place like Haiti. Natural disasters on an unimaginable scale always put things into perspective. Most of us have shelter, food, and options in life that look pretty good when compared with those of people suffering in horrific conditions like those after an earthquake or tsunami. The temptation is to self-flagellate, and feel guilty for caring about little things. I suppose the trick is to remember that reality is "as experienced," for most humans, and something that is upsetting one is still very real and genuinely upsetting. Disasters can help provide welcome perspective, but they don't really provide a solution in the form of simply dismissing one's own worries and challenges, simply because they are not even on the same scale as those of disaster victims.

So, I guess the resolution is to try to keep resolutions throughout the new year; to learn from disasters and appreciate one's own blessing; but to address one's challenges and worries realistically, within the context of one's own day-to-day experience of reality (there's always someone richer and/or happier, there's always someone poorer and/or sadder, so find your own equilibrium). I'm not at all sure this will work, and it seems like a string of obvious commonplaces, when I re-read it. But it's a start on something new for the new year, so I'm willing to try. Perhaps I will get to Venice this year, after all ?