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Rhoda P. Curtis

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New Year's Resolutions

Posted: 01/02/12 11:39 AM ET

New Year's Resolutions are connected to Judeo-Christian concepts of self-improvement and apologies for any wrongdoing over the past year. According to Wikipedia, "A New Year's Resolution is generally a goal someone sets out to accomplish in the coming year. Some examples include resolutions to donate to the poor more often, to become more assertive, or to become more environmentally responsible. A key element to a New Year's Resolution that sets it apart from other resolutions is that it is made in anticipation of the New Year, and new beginnings. People committing themselves to a new year's resolution plan to do so for the whole following year.

At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions. There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism's New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one's wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness. People may act similarly during the Christian fasting period of Lent, though the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility. The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually."

The success of these resolutions appears to be connected with the modesty of the goals. For example, a resolution to "lose weight" is less likely to succeed than a resolution to lose a pound a week, or some such specific goal. From a realistic point of view, such resolutions are a form of superficial "mea culpa." If we are really serious about changing any part of our usual behavior, we will do so, with or without a written or verbal expression.

Let us examine the possible reasons for New Year's Resolutions. When we make such resolutions, we feel virtuous, as if by acknowledging any failure on our part to behave in a moral or responsible manner over the past year, we become absolved of the errors of our past ways.

It has been my experience that our behavior really doesn't change much over the years. If we don't pay our bills on time, we usually pay a penalty in real time. If we drink too much, we get sick; if we smoke, we will start coughing; our bodies will remind us that we had better stop, never mind a resolution to do so. If we neglect our children, or our spouses, or our friends, we will experience immediate negative results. So why bother making a resolution?

We seem to need to acknowledge publicly a social or personal failing. Perhaps it comes from a cultural resolve to be a responsible public citizen, and therefore it is recognition of political and social responsibility toward fellow human beings.

I'm all in favor of political and social responsibility toward each other, since that is the social construct by which we live; and we cannot have a viable society without such behavior. Over the years, I have become more conscious of the necessity to reaffirm our belief in each other, and perhaps New Year's Resolutions are a good way to do this.

I'm not sure how seriously we take New Year's Resolutions in the year 2012. The verb "resolve" carries with it a sense of serious commitment, and its origin in religious ceremonies reinforces that sense. For me, a New Year's Resolution is frivolous, because I have already had to change my behavior during the past year. Now, entering my 94th year, I find I have made a lot of changes in attitude, all relating to a decline in physical ability. I have had to change my mindset from "I can do it myself, thanks," to "I need help. I'll just sit here until you can give me a hand."

I realized how profound that change in attitude was when I understood that I had made a switch from thinking of myself as an independent, fully functioning person, able to drive myself around, or walk anywhere alone if I chose to do so to someone quite different. Now I have accepted being driven anywhere I want to go, accepted help in walking up and down stairs, or even walking around my neighborhood if I want to. Suddenly I have become a dependent, rather than an independent person.

This is a significant adaptation in our society, and it upsets many people in my age bracket. Cultural adaptations to the cultural mores in which we live are part of our persona, and are formed m childhood.

Therefore, when we make a New Year's Resolution to make a change in our behavior, we are doing something quite significant, and quite worthy of celebration. I intend to celebrate any and all New Year's Resolutions my friends and I shall make with festive glasses of champagne!