Tradition has it that January is the time to think back on what we have done and look forward to what we will do. As 2014 now gets underway, the focus is on our resolve to change, all with the intention of doing even better this year than last.
By many accounts, this impulse to be introspective is part human nature and part historic. We are told that the origin of the name of the month January is the Roman god, Janus. History or myth, depending on how we look at it, describes Janus as the god of doorways or passages, in effect representing a threshold to something new. All the coins, drawings, and sculpture with images of Janus show him with one head and two faces, each looking in the opposite direction.
Regardless of what resolution we might have made at this same time last year -- and did or didn't actually accomplish -- we should take this seriously. But it must be much more than the New Year's Eve champagne-spiked commitment to shed pounds, get a new job, or travel to foreign lands that very well may fall by the wayside within weeks.
Just look around, especially at some of those with influence whose behavior affects our lives. If 2014 is really to be a "new" new year, change is key.
The banking and financial industry is certainly high on that list. After dramatic failures in 2012 and little change this past year, major banks found themselves pilloried. On Dec. 1, just last month, The Daily Mail reported record European Community fines levied on major banks:
The EC sanctions serve as the latest reminder of wrongdoing in the industry, which has been left reeling following a series of scandals in recent years.
Authorities worldwide have so far fined UBS, RBS, Barclays, Rabobank and ICAP for manipulating rates, while seven individuals face criminal charges.
But Barclays was the first to settle and suffered a major reputational blow, which claimed the scalp of former chief executive Bob Diamond and has led to a major overhaul of practices and culture in the bank.
Only a few weeks earlier, JPMorganChase found out the hard way that it had to pay $13 billion in fines -- the highest in history -- just to start down the long journey to rebuild trust.
How about President Obama? If there ever was example of a leader whose foray into health care legislation has led to plummeted trust and some of the highest disapproval ratings, this is it. Coming off the high of being named Time's "Person of the Year" -- not just once but twice, in 2008 and 2012 -- Mr. Obama is facing a crisis of leadership. As reported by Reuters and The Huffington Post on Nov. 25, 2013:
A growing number of Americans doubt President Barack Obama's ability to manage the nation, according to a CNN/ORC poll released on Monday that reflects the possible larger impact of his administration's fumbled rollout of its healthcare law.
The poll also found that 53 percent of those polled said Obama is not honest or trustworthy, marking the first time that the CNN/ORC polling found a clear majority questioning the president's integrity, CNN said.
For the president, something needs to change.
And then there is the challenge of Pope Francis. From the moment he walked out on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square, you could tell that change was on its way. In naming Pope Francis Time's 2013 "Person of the Year," the editors wrote:
He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.
While the pope has shown by his actions how to "walk the talk" and lead from the heart, he too needs to move thoughtfully and steadily. He doesn't have 100 years to make the changes he feels are needed if he wants his legacy and the change he brings to last.
For each of us and our commitment this year to do better, it really isn't one of those all-too-common "top 10" New Year's resolutions that will be the stuff of real change.
Rather, we should set our sights higher.
First, we have the responsibility to conduct our lives in a way that lifts others up, just as we would want them to do for us. And second, we should ask ourselves how we might ensure that our behavior is such that we do our part to make 2014 a really "new" new year.
For sure -- and at a minimum -- we must:
1. Put values and integrity at the top of the to-do list... they must govern what we do.
2. Listen first, talk second... that way others know we care and we learn how others will feel about what we do.
3. Do what we say... talk is cheap so we have to mean what we say and follow through.
Simple? Maybe yes. Maybe not so simple.
But like all New Year's resolutions -- even the ones about the gym or that new adventure -- don't let them slip.
And it's still early January.
There's too much at stake.