The ringing in of the New Year traditionally brings with it a natural time to reflect on the year behind and to think about how to approach the year ahead. While this can be a time for excessive navel gazing, I think it also offers us a chance to think about the way we interact with each other. As 2018 begins, we would do well to think beyond how each of us can personally resolve to improve our physical, spiritual or mental health; I am challenging us to also think about our collective health as communities.
The weeks surrounding the New Year are fascinating to me because we acknowledge for a moment that our intentions and resolutions are worth paying attention to. We understand that these lives we live are fleeting, and that we can do better. That the way we treat ourselves, our families, and our communities powerfully influences the meaning we make in this life. Changing that number on the calendar causes almost all of us to recognize that time is moving on, that each of us are aging, changing, surviving, one year at a time. The loss of control we feel at the relentless progression of time creates a moment where we think about the things we feel we can control. Thus, we resolve. We resolve to care more, to create space, to be courageous, to be patient, to be present. We resolve to actively produce good in ourselves and in our environments.
As we resolve to advocate for ourselves and our families in our thinking and practices, I want to suggest we take advantage of this same moment to observe the way we take stances for or against the people and policies in our greater communities. In this season of obsessive reflecting and resolving, why not also think about the way we think about our place in society? Do you have issues you care about? Is the stance you take primarily negative or positive? The New Year provides us with a built-in opportunity to resolve to be people who “advocate for” rather than people who “rail against” or, even worse, than people who roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders about the lives of others.
While many of us are committed to advocating for ourselves in our pursuits of emotional, physical and spiritual health, our default perspective in the public sphere is primarily negative. When I reflect on the year behind, I observe that in small conversations and large interactions, many people approach others primarily through a stance-taking rubric. I am against X. The problem with my school/neighborhood/legislative body is the presence of Y. These negative stances are the result of a paradigm of lack, of fear, and of blame, and they prevent possibilities of collaboration, destroying chances to improve through advocacy and cooperation.
Many of us engage in the public sphere by being passively against things we don’t like, rather than being engagingly for things we find life-giving and good. Allow me to be practical for a moment. If you identify as a pro-life person, do you actually take action to advocate for life or do you demonstrate your stance FOR life mostly by being AGAINST abortion? A person who resolves to be pro-life could advocate for life by educating themselves about rates of childhood poverty and food insecurity in their city, and then joining with the best non-profits to help lower those numbers. They could find the best agencies in town who support and care for women navigating unplanned pregnancies, and walk with them as they try to care for their children after they are born and for the years that follow. They could educate themselves about access to birth control, and work to make sure every woman capable of bearing children can prevent unwanted pregnancy. They could educate themselves about the best organizations and government programs helping with early intervention and education for babies and young kids whose lives and opportunities are being slowly aborted with each benchmark they miss. They could evaluate the other stances they take, and commit to align all of them with a perspective that values and affirms the dignity of every created being. They could decide to be actively, productively, effectively for life.
In these days of the New Year, what if we began to notice the way we resolve to improve the health of the communities in which we live? Are our resolutions focused on advocating for ourselves alone? Do we primarily engage with our greater communities through rejection and negative stance-taking? As 2018 dawns, I want to listen to the way I think about myself, my family, and my city. It is worth knowing if the ways we think about others is negative and critical. Those thoughts are not only toxic for our own psyches, they are eventually destructive to the people around us.
In this first week of 2018, as you resolve to create environments where your best self can flourish, join me also in resolving to think about the stances we take in the public sphere. What could be possible if we, as a people, moved from postures against, to advocacy for? What could be possible if we rejected the idea that being anti-anything creates a positive trajectory? What if we resolved to be people who advocate for the things that engage our compassion and passion? If we approach society with affirmative perspectives on the resolutions we make, we can move through the world on a foundation of possibility, abundance and hope.