Weekly Discourse Column

New Year, New Perspective

I used to think each new year needed to come with a resolution, but I gave up that nonsense years ago.

New Year’s resolutions are the willpower’s equivalent to setting three alarms because you know you’ll sleep past the first two. It is an exercise in tricking yourself into trying to be a better self, with a safety net to cushion your inevitable failure.

Setting three alarms to wake upIf it was important enough to get out of bed on time, you’d just go ahead and do it instead of making a bunch of extra noise that irritates anyone else around.

Instead of making resolutions, I try each day to be as good of a person as I can be and leave it at that. The last thing I’d want to do is burden future Chris with outdated thinking. So, really, it’s a courtesy I extend to myself.

This isn’t to say I’m without flaws or can’t think of any way to improve either my health or character, In truth, I can think of thousands; I’m simply not compelled enough by the marking of a new year to force the issue.

Nonetheless, the passage into a new year is a great time for reflecting on life. I always do plenty of that.

If all goes according to plan and my automated robot helpers publish this column at the right time, at the time this column is published, I’ll currently be in an airplane somewhere over Ohio or Pennsylvania on my way home from celebrating Christmas with the in-laws.

I love reflecting on a plane, especially if I’m sitting near the window.

New Years ReflectionsThe combination of being crammed into a tight space with a broad cross-section of the population, seeing the world from a different altitude, and putting your life into the hands of science and strangers while passively defying the laws of gravity is always enough to get me thinking.

Even when the thought is usually just, “Please don’t let the safety announcement come from one of those wise-cracking flight attendants who mistake their captive passengers for an enthusiastic audience.”

Flying and New Year’s both give me a better appreciation of how good today is when compared with any other era in history. Before resolving against resolutions, several of mine revolved around gaining more historical perspective.

There was the year I tried to read a biography of every US President in order, but gave up after Martin Van Buren. Or, the year I was going to compare the headlines of each day’s newspaper against the corresponding date from 1946 to get a better understanding of post-World War II life. (I didn’t make it more than a week).

I take great pleasure from reading history during uncertain times. The first book I read after 9/11 was Black Hawk Down, followed by numerous books about early American wars in Barbary and Tripoli.

In late 2000, I was as consumed by our ongoing Presidential election recount as I was in the disputed race between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams in 1824.

And, perhaps it goes without saying, but the first book I opened after our last Presidential election was Nixonland (fantastic read).

As we begin our initial descent out of 2017, things surely feel uncertain. However, as I’ve done so often before, I’m finding comfort through historical comparisons.

Exactly one hundred years ago, the world was literally coming undone. I can’t help but wonder what someone like me would’ve thought, on New Year’s Eve of 1917, looking back on all that changed.

New Years Eve 1917 HeadlinesAmerica entered World War I. The entire world political system was reordered with revolutions as monumental as the Bolshevik in Russia and as close to home as Mexico.

Men of German descent on US soil were classified as enemy aliens and required to register with the federal government; thousands would soon be sent to internment camps.

Women couldn’t yet vote and segregation was the law of the land.

Although they couldn’t have known it at the time, a mystery disease was starting to spread. By the end of 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic would take fifty million lives.

So yes, there is a lot to be uncertain about heading into 2018. But, when you hold it up against just about any other period in history, this is truly a good time to be alive and to pursue our dreams.

I commend all my friends who are making resolutions this year to help promote the values we hold in common. Gimmicks have their time and place (new column released every Sunday at 7:56 PM, in honor of Andy Rooney), but they don’t work for me when it comes to self-discovery or gaining more perspective.

Sometimes, even when just sitting perfectly still, the world just changes all around you, leaving you with two choices. You can either shut your eyes and try to sleep, or get the best perspective you can and try to make a little bit of sense out of your surroundings – just like looking out an airplane window.

Next Week: Soliloquies from My Soul

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