“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Nearly half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only about 8 percent are successful. Be it losing weight, getting organized, spending less and saving more, enjoying life or quitting smoking, the odds are stacked against those who make those annual pacts with themselves.
New Year’s resolutions date back to ancient times. Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. That is a noble promise.
The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.
At watch-night 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 liturgical season of Lent, though the motive behind this holiday is more of sacrifice than of responsibility, in fact the practice of New Year’s resolutions partially came from the Lenten sacrifices.
The concept, regardless of creed or intention, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually. As we look at making ourselves better, it might also be a good idea to look at the bigger picture.
We are in the midst of a loud, obnoxious presidential campaign and will soon face another divisive Kansas legislative session. There are voices all around us screaming to be scared of our neighbors and fearful of the future.
Perhaps we should all resolve to set aside rudeness, embrace civility and adopt tolerance. Who knows, these vows may make our entire state, nation and planet better places.
– Dale Hogg