Each succeeding year demonstrates to me how much less I know of the universe than the year before – going right back to when I was 18 or so and knew pretty much everything.
Nevertheless, from the depth of my ignorance I am free (and indeed encouraged) to do what I can for the common good. As the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish oral law, states: “It is not required that you complete the work, but neither may you refrain from it.”
A good time to declare that work is now, around the first of the year, in the form of a traditional New Year’s resolution.
Common sense suggests we have a better chance of realizing our annual goals if they are few in number, achievable and reasonably significant.
So here are three:
1. Work to improve myself. This one is simple but challenging. Be a better spouse, father, grandfather, friend, colleague. Control my ego. Learn when to speak and when to stay silent, when to stand up and when to stay seated. I need to push myself with my writing. I must not let age, pain or exhaustion provide an excuse to be lazy, shallow or self-involved.
2. Work to improve others. My life is so blessed; the least I can do is give back in some fashion. So I volunteer at the RoundTable. For many years I was a mentor to an Evanston youngster. Formerly I volunteered at Wheels on Meals Northeastern Illinois, a wonderful organization headquartered in Evanston. Whatever the work, helping others is highly satisfying and goes a long way to advance the moral arc of the universe that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of. As the Dalai Lama said, the way to serenity isn’t to aspire to paradise, but “to serve where I am needed.”
3. Work for a more perfect union. Abraham Lincoln said 160 years ago at Gettysburg, “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Bold and inspiring language: government of, by and for the people…shall not perish. For all America’s faults, our nation’s greatness is incontestable. Make it more so.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 2: “This country belongs to the optimists, the innovators and the builders. The places where we’ll figure out what comes next are churches, schools, businesses and neighborhood associations.”
So apply your talents at the local level: Sign up as an election judge, volunteer to mentor young people, join a community group and work to strengthen our fair city.
Not much, just the three. But if I could succeed in those, and if we could all succeed in our own resolves, we’d be better people, a better nation and a better world.