In Favor of New Year's Resolutions

Many of us are looking forward to 2010 and thinking about what resolutions we will make. We are glad this year is coming to a close, as 2009 will go down in history as a year of scandals, disgraces, and re-evaluations. This will be, for some, the year we never thought would end. AP writer Jeffrey Collins believed this concept so strongly that he subtitled a Christmas Eve article, "2009 is the Year of the Bad Decision in SC."

He cited four amazingly bad decisions in the state. First, Marc Torchi decided to spruce up the neighborhood by burning some debris in his yard, which led to the most costly wildfire in South Carolina history. Next, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps went to Columbia, SC - just to hang out - and some of his "friends" photographed him smoking from a sixties-styled marijuana pipe. Third, Congressman Joe Wilson got so upset about President Obama's health care plan and his delivery of a message before Congress that he shouted out the phrase, "You, lie!" Finally, the article alluded to Governor Mark Sanford's mysterious disappearance so that he could be with his "soul mate." The rendezvous led to disgrace and divorce in the governor's mansion.

Jeffrey Collins went on and on in his half-social commentary, half-rant style to explain the epic proportions of the South Carolina's year-long "judgment gate." To summarize his sentiments he wrote, "It seemed that with every click on a news Website in 2009, someone in South Carolina was making a choice that left the rest of the nation shaking its collective head." For this chagrined writer, John Stewart's parody of the state entitled "Thank You South Carolina" aired in August on the Daily Show was the height of ignominy and shame.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, South Carolina is not the only place where bad decisions were made in 2009. The rest of the nation had its own unique "faux pas" or own "judgment gates." I use the word "gate" to pick up on the concept that in the Nixon era the "Watergate" scandal became a national embarrassment. This past year was so filled with gaffs that I could list 12 or 15 major national or political "Watergate" moments. Let me remind you of just a few.

What about the "Acorn-gate" scandal? This debacle was caused by "home movies" depicting a young couple discussing their prostitution earnings with the wise counselors of Acorn. Next there was the "Cambridge-gate," a controversy that highlighted the continued depths of our race problems in the U.S. You will recall how Harvard professor Skip Gates and the Cambridge cop (a police trainer on the ills of racial profiling) got locked in an incendiary, name-calling match that burned so brightly that it could only be put out at the White House with the president over a beer.

We cannot leave the media world out. Let's remember the "Late-show-gate." David Letterman's secret dalliances led to a black mailing charge of a media tycoon, a national on air confession, and the smearing of numerous reputations. The whole explosion seemed surrealistic coming from the man that attempted to belittle Sarah Palin, her family's values, and her daughters for their youthful indiscretions.

It is hard to select the next hall of fame winner for bad 2009 decisions. Some believe that Charles Berkley's sexually charged statements after a DUI are legendary. While millions feel that Tiger Woods' extra marital affairs have broken the Richter scale for earthquake-like scandals.

I will not go on and on about poor judgment. It is sufficient to say that we have a national lapse of culture, character, and decorum. The nation has been most shocked by the clay feet of national heroes and those among the lists of the rich and famous. Unfortunately, indiscretions abound among the last and the least, as well. Alas, poor decisions are a part of the human condition.

This is one of the reasons people make New Year's Resolutions. In fact the time of year that we use to formulate these concepts predates Christ by at least 200 years, when January was added to the Roman calendar. The development of the month of January is credited to Numa Pompilius, the second Roman king before it became a republic. Numa named the month after the mythic pagan god who was the lord of beginnings and endings and of gates and doors. Janus was depicted having two faces with one face looking back to what is behind and with one face looking toward what lies ahead. The Romans of Pompilius' day believed that the month of January gave everyone an opportunity to look both backward and forward at the same time. This kind of reflection seems to be so natural at each year's end.

When Rome converted to Christianity the calendar and original concept of January was christened and given a Christian "name." The church led the way in establishing new spiritual rituals to celebrate the New Year. Current traditions include Christians prayerfully reflecting on repentance, reformation, and rethinking old problems before celebrating the New Year. Even our secular society has caught the idea of change and reconsideration at this time of year. The net result is that 40-45% of American adults make one or more resolutions each year.

Among the top New Year's resolutions are always ones about weight loss, exercise, and breaking bad habits. Researchers say that included in the most popular resolutions are issues like dealing better with money management/debt reduction. Unfortunately 25% of us abandon our resolutions after the first week. At the end of the first month nearly 35% have changed their minds, while nearly 55% give up on their goals after 6 months. Despite this attrition rate the reality is that those who make New Year's resolutions are 10 times more likely to keep their commitments than those who make no plans or resolutions at all.

So this year reflect! Celebrate the good things and then make a New Year's resolution for personal development. It may just change your world!

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