Over the course of my life I’ve determined that two types of people inhabit this earth: (1) those in whom resolutions imbue an energetic and aspirational focus with propelling effect, and (2) those in whom resolutions behave like a kind of masochistic minefield, with which they feel obliged to afflict themselves each year in order of appease the gods of social custom. I’d place myself in the latter category. [Sigh.]
This can probably be generalized to the goal-makers and non among us, and I’m certain that it has everything to do with the way each of us related to such idealized projections of our future-selves. All I know is how they make me squirm.
“Are you making a list of things to feel horrible and guild-ridden about this year?”
Do I sound jaded? I suppose I am.
And still, despite myself, I’m allured, as moth to flame, by the renovative possibilities represented in these Gregorian demarcations of time—carpe annum! (Or does the annum carpe me?) I’m a glutton for punishment.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I do want to offer up some musings on the hullabaloo of this New Year’s ritual, because I do strongly believe that if there’s one thing our whole freakin’ society needs right now it is a good, long, hard look in the mirror. Am I right? I think we can all agree that 2017 was weird, and not “good weird”. More like, “What in the Sam Hill is happening?” weird. And I bet 2017 showed you some of your own more, shall we say, interesting qualities? Yeah, let’s go with interesting. There aren’t enough memes.
Where to go from here?
Robert Frost wrote a satirical (yes, satirical) poem which—its familiarity notwithstanding—offers us an apt image for occasions like this:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The title of the poem is actually The Road Not Taken, which presents the reader with an interpretational conundrum. It was intended as derisive critique of vain agonizing over paths not taken. He wrote it as a good-natured barb toward an indecisive and wistful friend, the poet Edward Thomas, about the inevitabilities of remorse in life filled with choices. It was a joke, but no one laughed. It couched indecision and regret in language of cowardice and naiveté (“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, / And sorry I could not travel both”), nonetheless the barb inadvertently affixed itself to quivers of arrow and pierced many a heart; including its original recipient, who reported being staggered by it.
It disclosed a common human longing: to reflect on one’s life with joy and not sorrow. Thus Frost’s verse unmoored itself from it’s author’s winking intent, and has exerted its own scionic legacy.
Frost said of one path that it was “grassy and wanted wear”. As so many tread down the thoroughfares of oblivion in our own day, are there not some grassier, if more uneven, paths themselves wanting wear? I think so. I think we can find in these paths some better, if less popular, ways forward. Let’s!
In this post, I would like to offer three preliminary ideas on what might enhance our resolution-ing this time around; call it an assessment of the soil quality in which they might grow. My intent is to follow this up with another post profiling traits of paths we might seek out.
But here I offer three ideas on renewing our resolution-making for the year ahead.
Firstly, don’t our resolutions tend to be very self-focused instead of collective or communal? This betrays a troubling hint of narcissism; that competitive whiff of, “this year I’ll be better than a few more people!” Surely that isn’t what our world needs more of. How about situating our resolutions in a world of personal, important and lasting repercussions; not just the egoism of our age? Maybe invite others into your resolutions?
Am I my brother’s keeper? Hope to God more might answer yes!
Secondly, resolutions tend to value doing over being and becoming, don’t they? This relates to the previous point, but I just wonder if this isn’t a bit shallow. Jesus once called people fools for ostensibly forgetting that he (God) who made the outside of a person also made the inside—implying they were both equally real and important. He also once said what we put into ourselves isn’t the problem, but what comes out. Being and becoming are admittedly harder and resist tidy listing, but lets at least connect our doings to them this year. Travel to become more broad-minded and empathetic, exercise to gain more dominion over self in order to serve others, read to see the world through the eyes and imagination of another with warmth and appreciation.
Visualize the year ahead as an instrument for the shaping of your soul, and resolve to be a willing participant!
Thirdly, our resolutions trend toward quantitative instead of qualitative. That’s a problem, because, per my last item, these could nudge us toward valuing quantity over quality, or betray how expeditiousness too often comes at the expense of the quintessence.
Your life will leave a wake this year. Will it be restorative, beautiful, humane and enriching? By nature, the qualitative defies quantification, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be measured. It is often those around us who might enable us to apprehend our progress in qualitative resolutions—they may even help us frame them!
What I’m advocating is a resolution-outlook that asks more more fundamental questions. What is most needed in the world around me? Who is the version of me I might offer with gladness? How might the quality of my life be enriching in nature?
Lean into the collective, the transformational and the qualitative in 2018. Our world could use these types of resolutions. And I think our world is famished for those who will forge better pathways, even through the thickets, to more humane destinations. This will require resolve in both its verbal and nounal form: a resolve toward where one will and won’t journey, and the resolve of accepting the assignment, however rugged or lonely.
I imagine, as did Frost, two diverging paths. The inevitability of choice is forgone; either stay the course or deviate, life offers us no passes.
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Way does indeed lead to way, so we do well to chose well our ways when given the opportunity. May your New Year’s resolutions be a form a way-chosing which leaves you with even more splendid, albeit onerous, way-choices one year hence. And may we bring others with us on these grassy paths in want of wear.
Here’s to 2018!