In this coming year I resolve not to be selfish, dishonest, and driven by fear and anger. What do you think are my chances?
At this time of year it is customary to make resolutions to change our lives in small and big ways. We perform this same exercise throughout the year, making resolutions to study harder when we get a bad report card; to quit as we put out our “last” cigarette; to stop gorging ourselves after one last midnight snack; following a fight with our loved ones; when we are arrested for drunk driving; when we steal just a little more of our investors’ funds; or when our minds force us to relive the killing fields of war. Faced with our own petty or most serious transgressions, we promise and hope we can do better.
Sometimes we make resolutions because feel we are unworthy people, and we long to correct our faults. Other times we are faced with serious problems due to our own behavior, such as addictions or destructive emotions. Or we may feel pretty good about ourselves, and our resolutions might simply be about self-improvement (here I am thinking of the entire membership of the United States Congress).
Most of us mean what we say when we make these declarations, and it is not uncommon that we accomplish our goal. I am something of a hedonist, yet over the years I have managed to live up to a number of my resolutions. I quit a heavy cigarette addiction decades ago. I quit talking about writing and started doing it. I broke it off with Dr. Ruth Westheimer and stopped robbing banks only last month. For the most part my attempts at self-improvement have made me a healthier and better person. I have been blessed with many second and third chances, and for that I am grateful.
But as the years go by I am confronted with the tenacity of my character flaws and pathologies. Don’t misunderstand me—I am not special. They are ordinary enough and you may well share many of them with me. It is simply that these weaknesses, defects, limitations—whatever you want to call them, whatever they are—just don’t go away, no matter how great my effort or strong my will power, no matter what guru or God I turn to for aid.
Sometimes it seems as if I am not getting anywhere but older. My efforts fall short. I look back over the string of resolutions going back decades, some successful and some not, and I wonder how much it really mattered—I remain in the same maze of strife and error, foolishness and greed, suffering the illusion that I am getting somewhere, but in the end, realizing that I am trapped. And so are you.
The answer? A resolution.
Despair is no way to live. We as individuals may never achieve our goals, but we can keep hoping—even if it appears that nothing makes sense—that we are working for the greater good. We can try and try again to love each other, including the people we are prone to hate. We can keep the faith—and that’s all it is—that there is a higher purpose to serve. And when others fail us and we fail them, we can forgive.
That’s my New Year’s resolution: to hope; to have faith; to love; to forgive, and in turn, to be forgiven. Even by Dr. Ruth.