Tirade No. 2: The Tyranny of the New Year’s Resolution
by Roger Johns
In my last post for the blog, Nothin’ But Net: A Modest (Holiday) Proposal, I took aim at the practice of giving cash as a gift. Having gotten that pet peeve off my chest, relatively unscathed, I am now emboldened to take on yet another venerated cultural phenomenon of the season: The New Year’s Resolution. I am fully aware of the recent trend away from making resolutions, so I don’t pretend to have set this bandwagon in motion, only to being a jumper-on, but, having jumped on, I here to say my piece on the subject.
First, I have resolved to view the decline of the resolution, not as a sign of the collapse of civilization, but as the inevitable recognition of the fact that recently discovered alternatives to the resolution are worth taking a look at. For the title of ‘Best Alternative’, I nominate the New Year’s Aspiration, because aspirations are much more open ended than resolutions.
Resolutions, to use a fifty-cent word, are too dichotomous. With resolutions, it’s either this or that, win or lose, succeed or fail. Having spent the better part of a lifetime falling victim to this cruel duality, it’s time to admit that the dichotomy has lost its charm as a motivator of self-improvement. The more forgiving (and, to my mind, far more encouraging) aspiration, is the way to go, because aspirations are really declarations of hope. They make room for the possibility of having to start over without having to admit failure. Someone wise, maybe it was Yoda, once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Hmmm. Maybe. If the fate of the Rebellion is at stake, then the dichotomous sentiment of such an all-or-nothing admonition sounds perfectly appropriate. Plus, it rolls off the tongue a lot more smoothly than “Aspire or aspire not . . .” But for an everyday, ordinary Joe, like me, with only a teensy fraction of my self-esteem at stake, the kinder, gentler “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” with its implicit message of hope that a future score is not entirely out of the question, hits infinitely closer to the mark. And even though there are those among us who contend that hope is not a strategy, I’m okay with that. Hope has the power to uplift, something strategy seems just a bit too functional and dry to achieve.
Besides, dichotomies seem better suited for the young. For example, the well-meaning, but clearly dichotomous, words of encouragement ‘If you fall off the horse, pick yourself up and get back on,’ offer only two possibilities––being off the horse or being on the horse––and contains the unspoken assumption that the one doing the falling is young enough to actually get back on. At my age, if I fall off the horse, I will call 9-1-1 and pray that the hip replacement is successful. And pray further that my insurance company doesn’t force me to sue the horse under the belief that I fell only because the horse failed to act the way a reasonable equine, in similar circumstances, should have acted.
No, I think it’s best to avoid the negativity inherent in the seemingly innocent practice of making New Year’s resolutions, so I invite you all to join with me in setting your sights on a few well-chosen aspirations instead. There is strength in numbers, so we might succeed in elevating the aspiration to its rightful place.
Note: Yes, I’m aware that I’ve now used the word ‘tyranny’ in two consecutive blog posts (this is called an “echo” in the writing business, and is considered a failure of imagination [or, at least, a lackadaisical approach to editing]) but I am disinclined to bow to the tyranny of the conventions of copyediting, because that’s just too dichotomous. Besides, I like the word.
Roger Johns, is the award-winning author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries.