On the 26th of December 2015, we invited readers to formulate their New Year’s resolution. We quoted Aristotle, who said, “All man’s well-being depends upon two things: one is the right choice of aim, of the end to which actions should tend, the other lies in the finding of the actions that lead to that end.” We encouraged readers to define their large-scale aim for 2016, as well as the small-scale efforts they intended to make towards that aim. Four months later — a third of the year having passed — it is worthwhile reviewing what we have learned from this experiment.
For my part, on the Eve of 2016, I resolved to minimize wit. I had observed my joking and fooling about with friends to have strayed beyond the bounds of good taste. This had become habitual and was preventing intimate conversation. Since I had observed this happen while dining, I associated the “actions that lead to that end” with bringing more intention to the act of dining. If I could introduce disciplines around the table — slowing down, tasting the food, listening to what others have to say — I would be in a better position to catch the wit “I”s as they appeared, and avoid their expression.
My resolution wove like a golden thread through the fabric of the New Year’s festivities. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners became opportunities for practice. Each failure forced the reaffirmation of my aim and each success strengthened my resolve. I remember a vivid moment on New Year’s Eve: hand slowly lifting fork to mouth, the guest across the table saying “Who knows where we will be next year…” my own wit thinking “if we will be next year…”; and as this thought presses down on the springboard of my tongue to fling out into glory, I swallow its expression.
Victory. “I” was not that “I.” Generating priceless light by dodging this worthless comment was nothing less than turning lead into gold.Thus tugged against, the unexpressed remark flared my sense of self into being. I was granted the rare gift of choice, that is, to speak or not to speak, for how often do we actually choose to say what we say? At that moment, my cosmos was governed by its master.
This alchemical combustion repeated itself throughout the holiday season and during the first weeks of the new year, before declining along with the novelty of my resolution. Four months later, the year is no longer “New,” and my resolution is no longer a resolution. It has left a doubtless trace — I have certainly not regressed back to where I was prior to formulating it — but in hindsight, I see that its lifespan lasted about a month. It was a good life, albeit a shorter one than expected.
So from this experiment, I have verified the value of setting practical aims, without which I would not have brought such discipline to the table nor experienced the magical gift of choice. I have also verified that aims have limited lifespans after which they decline and die. We must reaffirm and reaffirm and reaffirm.
What have you learned from your New Year’s resolution?