Walsh's Wonderings - New Year's Resolutions

Most of us approach the new year with the hopeful trepidation one normally reserves for reaching out to pet a stray dog. We put out our hands and hope for the best, but deep down we know the odds of making a new friend are only slightly better than making a mad dash to the emergency room.

Resolutions for a new year are fraught with this same questionable logic. They are promissory notes tied to an arbitrary date on the calendar, weighted down by repeated failures to follow through while temporarily dressed up as a hopeful harbinger of good things to come. It’s a suffering invitation disguised as opportunity.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines resolution as “the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones; the act of answering, determining.” And yet, too often our resolutions simplify things into impossibility. “I’m going to lose weight this year” is simple in the same way our desire for world peace is simple. Simple doesn’t always mean that anything actually changes. After all, those same donuts are going to be in the staff room next week that were there last week.

A lesser-known definition of resolution might prove more helpful: “the quieting or lessening of a pathological state.” Admittedly, this does not have the optimistic tint one usually looks for when conjuring up a challenge for the next 365 days. On the other hand, it’s so much more practical. Rather than laboring under the unrealistic expectation that I’ll go vegan and work out four times a week, I simply accept that scarfing down those donuts by the fistful isn’t a sustainable lifestyle. Replacing one or even two of those donuts with something that might have once had a root system might be enough for now.

In medieval times, knights took “peacock vows” after Christmas to reaffirm their code of chivalry. They didn’t vow to climb to greater heights or transform the world; heck, they didn’t promise to change anything. They just reminded themselves to keep on keeping on. That seems like the perfect New Year’s resolution (or at least one that won’t require you to keep paying gym fees because you forgot to cancel the credit card charge).

A 2007 University of Bristol study showed that 88% of its participant’s New Year's resolutions failed, and the majority of those failures were due to unrealistic expectations. One can only conclude that it’s best to stay far away from the University of Bristol in January.

As an English teacher, I prefer yet another definition of “resolution,” buried much deeper in the dictionary: “the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out.” In other words, don’t give me the labor pains, just give me the baby. I have more than enough “complications” to work out; I don’t need to multiply them with needless promises I haven’t been able to keep as it is. Better to start off the new year by forgiving my shortcomings and “lessening my pathological state” by doing a little more walking during the day.

With any luck, there’ll still be a donut or two left in the staff room afterward.

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