No more resolutions

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(Host) Commentator David Moats reflects on the common practice of embarking on programs of self improvement at the start of the New Year.

(Moats) I have resolved not to make any New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s resolutions remind me of Lent. When I was a little Catholic boy, we gave up desserts for Lent, and my mother promised that when Lent was over, she would take us out for hot-fudge sundaes.

When we finally sat down at the counter for our sundaes, they were out of hot fudge. Forty days of no desserts and when it came time for the payoff – nothing.

Of course, that’s not the way Lent is supposed to work. The sacrifice is supposed to make you better all by itself. You’re not supposed to be in it for a payoff.

The thing is I make resolutions all the time. I don’t need to do it at New Year’s.

I frequently resolve to eat fewer fatty foods. But then I read that fatty foods are OK after all, which fits my theory of food craving, which holds that the reason we crave things is that we need them.

If I spend too many days in a row eating meat and starches, I’ll inevitably crave salads. Too much salad and I will crave meat.

I think if we pay attention to ourselves, we discover a built-in system of self-correction that is far more reliable than New Year’s resolutions.

A glass of wine at dinner time is a good thing. Even the doctors say it is. Too many glasses will put our system into serious self-correction mode.

But resolutions aren’t always about physical self-indulgence. I might resolve to listen to people more closely, to hear what they are really saying when they are talking to me. I tend to glide by sometimes on a wave of habitual optimism until I am caught short by the struggles people may be having.

But I don’t need to make a resolution to listen more closely. When I am on my optimistic glide path, my friends aren’t afraid of shouting to get my attention.

I could make a resolution not to succumb to a simpleminded hostility toward our current president.

The trouble with being simple-minded and dogmatic, even when you are right, is that it is boring. Dogmatists of the left and the right fail to pass the requirement laid down by Harold Ross, the founder of The New Yorker magazine. Ross used to tell his writers, “Be funny, or if you can’t be funny, be interesting.”

New Year’s resolutions represent an admission of a fallen state and an effort to redeem ourselves.
But I think most of us are doing OK. We have our self-correcting systems in place.

We feel bad when we lose our temper unjustly. We feel good when we lose it justly. We eat too much and pledge not to do it again, and we honor that pledge until it’s time for another good meal.

So if we resolve anything, it ought to be to like ourselves a little more, to give ourselves a little slack, to recognize that life is varied and good and to enjoy it.

That’s what I’d resolve if I were going to make a resolution.

This is David Moats of Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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