Change the focus in 2015

Published 1:47 pm Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Today we celebrate, among other things, the great human compulsion toward self-improvement, especially as revealed in the annual tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

But after all the vows to spend more time in the gym and less time at work, after all the promises to quit smoking cigarettes and start saving money, there is the valid question of whether any of those things — assuming we even actually hold to the vows and promises — make us better people.

In the final analysis, most New Year’s resolutions are too self-focused to have much positive effect on the people who make them, because real, positive change in most people comes only as they turn their attention outward, instead of inward.

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To that end, following are some New Year’s resolutions that could improve both individuals and the modern society they form:

  • Take fewer selfies: Nothing demonstrates the narcissism of Americans better than the selfie craze. While their society spins increasingly out of control, individual Americans are drowning themselves in a river of self portraits. Turn those cameras around — or better yet, put them down and actually look at what’s going on in the world around you. You might be surprised by what you see.
  • Listen more, talk less: The compulsion to argue is to communication what the selfie is to awareness. The more time we spend trying to ensure that everyone knows we’re right about some matter of debate, the less time we have to hear the points of commonality that prove so many of those debates to be spurious and actually harmful to progress. One doesn’t necessarily have to give up strongly held convictions to recognize that using those convictions as battering rams will never help build relationships.
  • Recognize your prejudices: We all have them, and they’re equally damaging to relationships, whether they’re held by white people or black people, straight people or gay people, Yankees or Southerners, academics or blue collar workers, rich or poor, married or single. We all make certain assumptions about others based on stereotypes and based on other factors that have little or nothing to do with their character. The trick is to recognize the tendency and be ready to nip it in the bud whenever it begins to reveal itself. Discernment requires a careful assessment of the people with whom we associate, not quick judgments.
  • Admit your failures: Nothing disarms an opponent quite like the words “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.” And few admissions are harder for a self-obsessed world to make. If you want to be a better person, and if you want to make the world around you a better place, be ready and willing to take the route of humility.

Here’s to taking a bit more of an external focus in 2015. Happy New Year.