Sunday January 8, 2023
Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions last weekend? When I broached that subject informally, a group of friends more or less agreed – they don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Mostly because they knew they’d break those resolutions. Maybe even that same evening, if the resolution involved chocolate or wine.
Or else they knew their good intentions were too idealistic: “Peace to the world.” “End poverty and starvation.” “Cure the climate crisis.”
I share those misgivings. But I also feel it’s worthwhile to make resolutions, periodically. And a New Year seems as good a time as any to make them.
It is, after all, the start of something new on the calendar. Why not also the start of something new in your life?
The nature of resolutions
You have probably attended meetings where formal motions always took the form of “Whereas… Therefore be it resolved that…”
The “whereas” part establishes facts; the “therefore” part defines what the organization will do about them.
That’s a resolution. And we make them often, not just when an old year changes to a New Year. They’re a decision, an agreement, to do things differently from now on.
These decisions are rarely earth-shaking. How much, after all, can any local committee do to achieve peace in war-torn Ukraine? But it can do something locally to help bewildered Ukrainian refugees arriving in a strange land. It can’t cure global warming, but it can encourage recycling.
Maybe you never connected the motions voted on at community gatherings with your New Year’s Resolutions?
Most organizations pass dozens of those resolutions every year, without hesitating because they might not be able to keep them.
So why not make some New Year resolutions of your own?
My own resolution
I made a one, at some point during Donald Trump’s presidency. I resolved to quit using superlatives in my writing.
What’s a superlative? It’s the third level of comparisons.
A straight comparison involves two identifiable things. Or ideas. Or results. This is better than that. Or worse. But you always know, you have to know, what you’re comparing with what. You can’t compare apples to oranges. Or fish to freight trains.
Not so with superlatives. Because they are superior to anything else. They are the best, the biggest, the loudest, the softest, the weakest, the fastest, the smartest…
Trump was addicted to superlatives. He was the “best president…” A crisis had to be “the worst we have ever faced.” Any Trump rally was “the greatest…” His opponents were “the most crooked…”
I never heard Trump do a simple comparison, a clear choice between two alternatives. He went for the superlative.
As a writer, I can accept that superlatives are sometimes necessary. You may have to identify the best vaccine or treatment out of a group of five, say. Or vote for the most trustworthy politician out of a slate of candidates.
But in such cases, the range is clearly defined.
I cannot accept that any politician or accountant is the best of all time. Or that someone is the greatest artist. I want to know who – or what -- they’re being compared with.
When Brazil’s Pele died, some glowing tributes called him the greatest athlete ever. In soccer, maybe. But hardly in javelin throwing. Or ballet. Or swimming.
I think of these as unattached superlatives. Like frisbees, they fly through the air with the greatest of ease… and thus prove meaningless.
I felt so offended by Trump’s frisbee superlatives that I resolved not to use them myself. And so far, I believe, I have kept that resolution.
Just do it!
So what change could you introduce in your life that would make you more honest, more compassionate, more sensitive?
Notice, I said “more,” not “most.” You don’t have to be the best at whatever you decide to do – just better.
So here’s my advice – choose something small. Choose something only you will notice. If no one else notices my avoidance of superlatives, so what? I notice. And I feel better about not shooting from the hip.
Here’s another suggestion. Write your resolution down. Post it on your refrigerator. Put a tick on the paper, every time you live up to your resolution. Don’t quit just because you slip occasionally.
One day, you’ll realize you haven’t had to add a checkmark for some time. Because your new resolution has become a habit. You don’t have to think about it anymore.
It starts with having good intentions. It ends with a new you.
Copyright © 2023 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week, I wrote about growing old. About having friends die. About unfulfillable bucket lists that have a hole in the bucket.
Betty Turcott empathized: “Me too - 86 this coming birthday. I don’t have a single friend left from my youth or early adulthood. A reminder that I have more years behind me than ahead. This spring I move to a condo 400 miles away, my decision, to be near family. The ‘stuff’ is going quickly, including my late husband’s well-used tools. But so far, the wonderful memories remain and make me smile, sometimes laugh aloud. And I have three more books I want to write! Carpe diem, indeed.”
I referred to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Leslie Fraser noted “Two sections of Ecclesiastics come to mind;
• the first part of Chapter 12 which, I believe, acknowledges that old age in inevitable even though it can feel debilitating. Certainly, your old age is not running rampant over you.
• Chapter 3 which I interpret to be that for each of us, we should do things at the proper time as life and circumstances allows. I believe that you have provided us, certainly myself (who is just barely trailing you in “best before date”), with weekly articles that have ranged from a wealth of information to entertaining to though-provoking.
You have every right to revel in the fact that you have left your mark and influence on so many.
Jim Henderschedt: "I’m with you on this one. Yes today is it…the only one we have. If there is a tomorrow it is a gift, as every tomorrow will be."
Tom Watson: “You caught me on the word ‘hoarder.’ E. L. Doctorow wrote a book Homer and Langley, a true story about two brothers in New York who never threw anything out; eventually the house collapsed under the weight of what was inside it. Some people are obsessed with collecting certain things, and finally have so many that they can't keep them all displayed at the same time, but can't bring themselves to part with any of the items in the collection. We wouldn't call them hoarders, and the collectors certainly wouldn't use a name so mundane as ‘stuff.’
“On the other hand, will their offspring want any of those collectibles? Not a chance. So, in some cases, there's not much of a difference between a hoarder and a collector.”
Vera Gottlieb: “In April I’ll be 83 -- living alone all my life -- and to this day, I have never hoarded anything. I’ve lived in several different countries and looking back now, the happiest 15 years were lived in Canada. I always loved to travel but with the advent of Covid, travelling has been reduced to a minimum. I look back at many fond memories and many pictures (to be sorted out by those inheriting them).
The column took Isabel Gibson back to a favourite quotation of her mother’s, from Don Blanding's The Rest of the Road:
“How long? How far? How hard? How fine?
How heavy or light the load?
If it’s half as good as the half I’ve known,
Here’s Hail! to the rest of the road.”
Two Steves had different thoughts about “mindfulness.”
Steve Lawson agreed “with everything you say about those of us in the senior years of aging. Living the moment is what we have, no matter what our age. I have tried to practice mindfulness for more than twenty years now and I find it helps me when I get caught thinking about the past or the future. I have said and believe as each new year and each new day comes to us, that it truly ‘is what it is.’ Accept it and live it as best as you can.”
Steve Roney: “You follow accurately the modern western understanding of ‘mindfulness’: that it is about paying full attention to the present, what is happening around you right now.
“I believe we have that exactly wrong. The Sanskrit term we translate ‘mindfulness’ apparently means something like ‘remembering.’ Rather obviously, mindfulness means paying full attention to the contents of the mind, not emptying the mind.
“Our perfect misreading is a measure of our materialism.”
Clare Neufeld “rather enjoyed reading the reflections on the passing of time, the eternally present and elusive ‘now’, and the letters section today. Feisty thoughtful, respectful interactions and disagreements make for the creative juices to flow.
“I kept wishing I was a fly in the wall of extensive conversations and exchanges between these opposing views.
“The jury remains ‘out’, yet clearly the jury must be deliberating, constantly, and forever.”
In the light of Clare’s “feisty interaction,” Fran Ota responded to Mark Roberts’ defence of Elon Musk, last week: “What strikes about this is that as soon as Elon Musk took over Twitter, he began censoring and booting people off. The snide comments about ‘leftists’ are thus now out of place.”
Ted Spencer: “Some decades back, it occurred to me that the list of folk who don’t like a person (or her/his views) can be more instructive than the list of folk who do like a person. When people jump all over you in defence of Musk/Trump/Zuckerberg and their ilk, you know you’ve done something worthwhile.”
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns