The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: resolutions

2016: Do What’s Missing

reflection

THIS PAST YEAR WAS A MIXED BAG for most of us. Mirroring our own personal highs and lows has been a larger world with both turbulence and progress. On the individual side, many of us will regret old resolutions unfulfilled and make new promises today in hopes of improving ourselves, and our circumstances. But what of the bigger problems of the world? We don’t even know where to begin in all the complexity.

Somewhere deep down must come the understanding that these two dimensions – personal and collective – are intertwined at the deepest of human levels. We lash out, at least in our minds, at perpetrators in Syria or North Korea, in politics or in finance, finding in such figures the reason for the world’s ills. It’s easy to reason that way, and we do it all the time.

In every place in the world where violence, corruption, racism or ignorance are prevalent, it all started because individuals shut down the lights in their heads and followed the attitudes of others. Untended and unchallenged, such illusions eventually broke out into the open simply because good people either didn’t show up or were too blinded themselves to spot their own culpability. We are all guilty of this and likely know it, but we fail to fully understand the effects. In priding ourselves that we are not “like them,” we find it easier to cast judgment or insult. The Internet is often full of good people whose bias becomes magnified or whose anger fuels divisions, and they are cheapened in the process.

There is a difference, a subtle distinction, between being not wrong and being right. By frequently justifying our lack of action wherever there is injustice and maintaining we would never be guilty of such things is a terrible way to begin the New Year. We must begin resolving to do what is right as opposed to what is the least risky.

Our willingness to judge or demean, especially on social media, has a dire human cost, whether or not we acknowledge it. Despite all the human suffering and isolation that yet remains in our world, we fail to understand that our own critical attitude, individually or collectively, in its own way only adds to an already difficult situation. It is relatively easy to point fingers, but another thing altogether to take risk and move more deeply into understanding.

Yes, the big players all have to do more, and quickly, but when they sense citizens themselves wish to play no part in the healing of the world, they find reason to delay action on everything from climate change to refugees, from inequality to gender bias. They will know we are truly serious when come together and shed the ignorance of our own judgments and then they will act.

Michael Hyatt recently said: “Don’t ask what is wrong, ask what is missing.” Perhaps we will discover that the missing ingredient might very well be ourselves. We all have judgments and critiques and they are useful to a point. But when they keep us from coming together to overcome our greatest challenges, then the key inhibitor to effective action might be within our own attitudes.

This is the first day of 2016, a new year with new opportunities. Given what we face at this present moment in history, what we need aren’t more New Year’s resolutions but personal willingness to take risks and make ourselves part of the conscious solutions as opposed to continually being part of the benign problems. Personal freedom is not merely the absence of responsibilities, but the ability to act on what our best for our own generation, even if it makes us vulnerable. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the presence of values worth sacrificing for.

For a good many Canadians there is a sense of newness, a freshness of ideas and possibilities, in the air and the hope that political parties will search for enough common ground upon which to build a coordinated response to our greatest challenges. But unless we as citizens make that happen among ourselves, politics will never rise to the challenge. Let’s stop looking for what’s wrong and search for what’s missing. Should we discover it, 2016 will no longer be a time of wishes delayed but of promises realized.

Our family leaves today for South Sudan for the official opening of a high school we have been building there for some time. We will also be overseeing the women’s and environmental programs we have been running in the region for a number of years. These blogs will continue later in January. In the meantime, Happy New Year everyone.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

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“DOING NOTHING ACCOMPLISHES NOTHING, gains nothing, changes nothing, and wins nothing. You have to make a move,” says author Richelle Goodrich, and it’s true. But opting to make moves out of the ordinary carries it owns risk of failure. And then comes New Years and the renewing of the old tradition of making resolutions to make the coming year something more than the last.

Maybe surprisingly, the most common resolutions haven’t changed much in decades. Here were the top resolutions of 1947, according to a wide-ranging Gallup Poll:

  1. Improve my disposition, be more understanding, control my temper
  2. Improve my character, live a better life
  3. Stop smoking, smoke less
  4. Save more money
  5. Stop drinking, drink less
  6. Be more religious, go to church oftener
  7. Be more efficient, do a better job
  8. Take better care of my health
  9. Take greater part in home life
  10. Lose (or gain) weight

Our population isn’t as outwardly religious as we used to be, but, still, these resolutions easily carry over to the modern era. Somehow our greatest goals at such times reflect our growing inner frustrations, those things that have a habit of undoing us each and every year. At times this reality frequently results in people abandoning the yearly practice altogether.

We shouldn’t, because they say something about us, namely that, although we may not succeed, we are still people who try to attain ideals, believe in goals, even if it takes a lifetime. Just saying that we won’t quit wrestling for our better selves or a better world perhaps says more than if we attain such things or not.

It’s time to stop being so pessimistic about so many things, simply because such an outlook defeats our very best intentions at every turn. All too often we permit those things outside of us to breed critical natures within, to be so concentrated in our voice so as to silence the voices of others necessary for our journey. It sometimes takes a lifetime to learn that we can more readily change our circumstances and our world by maintaining at attitude of optimism, being kinder, despite our difficult trials, than to gradually become jaded in our outlook. The reason for this isn’t rocket science – people work better with those who keep a positive and constructive attitude, thereby opening up the possibility for broader change. Being pessimistic results in isolation and the inability to find others to forge new paths forward.

The need to build our own moments is absolutely vital if we are to make our resolutions count. The secret to attaining them relies more on our ability to build our own story, our own plot, within ourselves than in merely waiting for circumstances to change. And how we build that narrative depends on the words we select. If they are merely critical, self-obsessed, jaundiced, or insensitive, then we will be forever trapped in Chapter One of our tale. As with any great novel, the future depends on the inner ability within the protagonist to persuade and shape her or his future.

Yet repeated failure to bring about the change we seek carries within it the danger of growing discouraged and eventually falling back into despair. New Years resolutions are there to remind us that we are still worth the effort, even if our outside world is refusing stubbornly to move in conjunction with our wishes.

One of the sad aspects about getting older is that we can eventually just give up altogether. It is then that transformation occurs that we may fail to notice. We can move from merely being critical to becoming afraid to try anything. G. K. Chesterton talked about this risk decades ago:

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new backbone, new ears to listen. Unless we made particular New Year resolutions, we would make no resolutions. Unless we start afresh about things, we will certainly do nothing effective.”

We can eventually reach the condition where we grow fearful to trying anything because we don’t know what it will entail. Change is hard for anyone, especially the kind of change that takes years. But if we don’t attempt it, then change hurries past us at an ever-increasing pace and we are left in our own jaded outlook and sense of isolation.

This is our year to try again, to begin change from the inside-out rather than the other way around. This is our story, and it commences with a main character who learns to take on all circumstances in an effort to eventually taken on enough strength and wisdom to change the world. To accomplish it we are always called upon to begin again, only with a broader understanding and a more compassionate heart. This is the privilege of New Years – another chance at empowering our story until new life breaks through and we can create a new future – not to go back to the start, but to continue the journey of nobility. Happy New Year.

Be It Resolved

broken_promises_by_herrfousNew Years doesn’t quite retain the deeper cultural meanings it used to possess years ago, but it still carries quite a punch.  Growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland, some of my most vivid memories swirl around New Years Eve, the gathering of family and friends, community celebrations, and, of course, the singing of Auld Lang Syne.  There was a depth of humanity to its words that transcended the moment.  But there was a restrained sadness in its singing, a kind of brooding acknowledgement that the arrival of a new year meant having to deal with some of the more difficult realities of the one just expired.

The words “Auld Lang Syne” could literally be translated as “old long since” and spoke of the passing of time.  They ask a straightforward question, based on the difficult times many citizens in those days had to endure.  The words ask plainly whether old friends and times will be forgotten.  There’s a kind of collective resolution expressed that such a thing won’t happen because, “we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet.”

But there were other verses in the song that we don’t sing in North America but which acknowledge some difficult community realities.  They speak of how friendships used to be strong and animated but how time had distanced those relationships in the words, “broad seas have roared between us.”

The years of the famous song’s origins, as with many eras since, were difficult times when communities struggled to stay together despite strong outside forces that would seek to undermine their history.  There remain some desperately tragic stories of entire communities that disappeared into the mist as time passed them by.  Always, in those early Scotland years for me, was this ongoing tension between hope and sadness whenever the song was sung that was profoundly collective in nature.

Today, New Years has become far more individualistic.  Yes, we gather, drink and dance, but the sense of coming together for the sake of entire communities has receded into memory.  In the place of community experience has come individual resolutions – the willingness to make promises to ourselves that we hope to fulfill in the ensuing months.  We desire to change and better ourselves, which is a wonderful thing.  And yet such actions often take place in isolation: losing weight, eating better, saving money, being more successful.  It is rare anymore to see citizens coming together at New Years and making joint resolutions to better their collective life, to share in resources, and to fight those broader forces seeking to diminish their community identity.

Recent research in the U.S. revealed that 50% of Americans make New Years resolutions, but that, sadly, 88% never carry them out to conclusion.  That’s over 150,000,000 resolutions that failed.  The research went deeper and revealed why it was the people couldn’t maintain that drive.  Put simply, those making such resolutions failed to understand the distinction between a resolution and a habit.  It remains almost impossible to retain a certain practice all year and then suddenly end it just because you feel like it.  The goal shouldn’t be to make a sudden change but to build “instinctual” habits that will eventually assist us to achieve our target.  Resolutions are always vital, but without the discipline to back them up the brain experiences great difficulty in creating changes in our lives that are sustainable.

This New Years, there will be many like me seeking to place a broader focus on our resolutions.  Things won’t be about “us” but “we” and there will be some hope of winning meaning back into the places where we live.  We will resolve to work more with others, to not be as opinionated or unforgiving, to be generous in spirit as opposed to restrained.  But by February or March the old ways stand a great chance of creeping back in and robbing us of our collective promises to one another.

We stand the chance of forgetting once more that for people like Mandela, forgiveness became a daily discipline and generosity of spirit had become a daily habit.  Our communities could use such a message once more.  As years pass, people who were once friends have divided sharply over a particular issue and never resolve to heal the relationship.  Sometimes such divisions occurred over mere opinions and not any particular actions.  Surely such troubles could be healed, friendships restored, and collective action for the sake of community be put back on track.

If citizens become so political every day that they refuse to congregate and work together because of hyped-up partisan instincts, then our cities will be at a loss.  If everything depends on one political tribe beating another into submission, where is the space left for magnanimous communities or shared purpose?  Instead of uniting us in difficult times, politics has taken on the nature of dividing over partisan feuds.

So let us this New Years make one collective resolution.  Be it resolved that we will create empowering citizen habits that will see us spend the next 365 days healing old wounds, salving areas of historic pain, using social media as an aggregator of commonality as opposed to a mere bulletin board of random opinions and postings that often divide us, and supporting those institutions that would seek to bring us together.  Given the challenges we now face, let’s build those habits of healthy citizenship that can see us resolve actions together that we can actually complete.  Happy New Year to all.

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