You Say You Want A Resolution

January 5, 2011

This past weekend I tried to explain New Year’s resolutions to Emilia.

“A resolution is something that you decide that you want to do in the upcoming year. You say it out loud or write it down, on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, so that everyone knows what your resolution is.”

“But you’re not supposed to tell other people your wishes.”

“It’s not a wish, really. It’s something that you want to do or have happen, and you make it happen for yourself.”

“So you don’t need stars or fairies?”

“No, you don’t need stars or fairies. You’re your own fairy.”

“Can you be someone else’s fairy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I do Jasper’s resolutions?”

“I don’t think that Jasper has any resolutions.” (This, by the way, is not entirely true. I’ve made some resolutions on his behalf – I’ve resolved that he complete potty-training, that he sleep through the night, that he stop using my hair as a comfort object – but I don’t think that this is the kind of thing that she had in mind.)

“I think he has resolutions. I think he has resolutions to play and ride a bicycle. I could help him resolution those.”

My impulse, here, was to insist to her that a person’s resolutions are always their own, and that you can’t (my own example v.v. Jasper notwithstanding) make resolutions on others’ behalf, nor can you fulfill resolutions for anyone else, nor should you want to. The whole point of resolutions, I was going to tell her, is to make a commitment to yourself, to make a promise to yourself.

But then I thought, what if she has a point?

It is great, of course, that we seize the opportunity that is offered by the start of a new year to make promises to ourselves, that we regard the turning over of the calendar as a signal that we should make such promises to ourselves, and that we approach the new year in the spirit of self-renewal and self-commitment and self-improvement. But what if we chose, instead of this – or in addition to this – to press those energies in service of others? What if, instead of resolving to lose weight or stop procrastinating or cut back on coffee or doing it whatever it is that we hope to do to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, we resolved to do things to make others feel better? To make the world a better place? To put our communities on diets that cut back on negativity and replace everything that is heart-clogging and bitter with kindness and empathy and generosity and grace? To be each other’s fairies? To encourage each other in play, and teach each other to ride bicycles?

It’s nothing new, of course, to resolve to do more good, to support more causes and be more charitable, etc, etc. But I’m talking about more than that. I’m talking about resolving to make kindness a daily, mindful practice. I’m talking about going out into the world, every day, and asking one’s self, at least once, how can I make someone else’s day just a little better? Maybe that just means smiling and saying hello in situations where you might otherwise stare straight ahead and keep walking, or holding the door open for someone, or randomly buying someone a cup of coffee, or taking five minutes to call an old friend, or setting aside an hour to devote to helping your daughter cover the ceiling above her bunkbed with stickers. It needn’t be – shouldn’t be – something reserved for strangers, and it needn’t – shouldn’t – mean that you walk around with a stupid grin on your face when you don’t mean it. It just means, resolving to spend some time, every day, being actively mindful of the happiness of others.

I’ve still got my own personal resolutions. One of them is to find a way to balance my more evangelical and proselytizing impulses when it comes to do-goodery with, I don’t know, less proselytizy impulses, and this, I know, isn’t the best start, but still. Sticking to personal resolutions is hard. So for now, like Emilia, I’m going to stick to other-directed resolutions. I’m going to resolve this: to put kindness, gentleness, humor, trust and grace out into the world wherever I can; to direct those efforts toward strangers, friends and family alike in the form of random and not-so-random acts of kindness and generosity; to do this in small ways and medium ways and large ways and whatever ways are possible; to do so mindfully, and thankfully.

And to help Emilia teach Jasper to ride a bicycle.

Training in the machine gun arts I will leave to their father.

**I am really going to hold myself to this. There will be days – days when I have not had enough coffee, or when Emilia is behaving more like Maleficent than one of the chubby little good fairies – when it will be difficult, because, contrary to how I might come across in posts like these, I can sometimes be a really cranky bitch.

***Shutting down comments, sorry. No space here for snark, and I can’t moderate effectively from Vegas, so.

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