As we step into a new year, it is impossible to divest ourselves totally of baggage from the old one. Let’s be honest–there was a lot about 2017 we’d rather forget. Threats of global warfare. Acts of terrorism. Indescribable human suffering in too many countries. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Fires. Scandals. Shootings. The staggering dysfunction in Washington. We wish we could close the book on the year, emphatically stating, “Good riddance!” But, who doesn’t fear that what we had, is what we shall have all over again?
So, what do we tell ourselves as we journey into the unknown, desperately hoping it will not be a repeat performance? Permit me to make just a few suggestions.
1st, Be Patient. That’s not the same as being resigned to what is, but rather an awareness that our dreams don’t always materialize the instant we dream them.
You know the clichés about Rome not being built in a day and about the journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step. Ordinarily clichés become such because they are woven with a fabric of truth. If we have been taking steps in the direction of building a safer, saner society, just keep taking those steps. One day at a time. One step at a time. One letter to the editor or your senator at a time. One vote at a time. One prayer at a time. One community advocacy meeting at a time. One blog at a time. The world we desire won’t be built in a day. But, if we do not keep taking the single steps that are required, it won’t be built at all. Be patient with yourself and with your world, and keep moving forward.
2nd, Be Hopeful. If we give up on the future, we give in to the present. No change has ever been spearheaded by people who didn’t think it could happen.
I love college basketball. As I’ve studied the game over the years, I’ve noticed something intriguing about successful coaches. Some coaches equip their teams for “this week” or “the next game.” Successful coaches use each game and each week to equip their teams for Tournament Time. A tough loss can teach a team more valuable lessons than an easy win here or there. Good coaches keep looking forward to March or even April, believing that whatever they experience along the way will make them stronger when crunch time comes. But, should a loss or two cause the players to throw up their hands in despair, they will condemn themselves to spending tournament time sitting in front of televisions watching other teams play.
Do not give up because of a temporary setback, learn from it. Let it equip you for the stretch run. Every setback can teach valuable lessons that help us achieve success.
3rd, Be Agents of Change. Remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Are you concerned with the divisions that exist all around us? Then become more inclusive in your own relationships. Are you disturbed by the lies which bombard us from all levels on a daily basis? Then base your new year on a commitment to honesty and transparency. Are you discouraged by the vitriol that defines social media? Then do your part to create a culture of kindness in what you post and share. Are you offended by stories of people using or abusing others? Then make a resolution that in the coming year that you will base your treatment of others on The Golden Rule.
You may debate whether one person can change the whole world, but there’s no debate that you can be part of a process of change that will make the world a better place. Even if you just positively impact the worlds of a few people, you will make the new year infinitely better than the old one.
Be patient. Be hopeful. Be agents of change. And trust that in so doing, you can have a Happy New Year!
Dr. Michael Brown is Senior Minister of Marble Collegiate Church, one of the most renowned congregations in New York City.