The tradition of New Year's resolutions goes all the way back to 153 B.C.
Janus, a mythical king of early Rome, was placed at the head of the calendar year. With two faces, Janus could look back on past events and also forward to the future.
Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions and the Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings. Right before Janus' Day (January) they looked for forgiveness from their enemies and exchanged gifts before the beginning of the year.
What is a New Year's resolution?
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It is a commitment that one makes to a project or to the reforming of a habit. It is often a lifestyle change that is meant to be advantageous.
Communal examples include resolutions to more often donate to the poor, to become morally assertive, or to become more economically or environmentally responsible.
Statistically, a recent U.S. government sponsored survey shows that while 52 percent of participants in a New Year's resolution study were confident of success with their goals, only 12 percent actually achieved their goals.
Men achieved their goal 22 percent more often when they engaged in goal setting, a system where small measurable goals are used (lose a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10 percent more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.
This very same survey showed that the most popular New Year's resolutions made in the USA are: losing weight, managing debt, saving money, getting a better job, getting fit, eating right, acquiring a better education, drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking , reducing stress, reduce stress in the workplace, taking a vacation trip and volunteering to help others less fortunate.
When it comes to New Year's resolutions I am not as pessimist as was the Irish playwright and poet, Oscar Wilde, who wrote that "Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account."
Rather I would agree with the English writer and Christian apologetist, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote, "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 nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."
What communal New Year resolutions should we be making here in Merced?
A few that immediately come to mind are:
1 -- better communication and synchronization between Merced, the city, and Merced, the county;
2 -- to do our individual share in bettering the quality of life for all Mercedians, both rich and poor;
3 -- hold our elected officials to their stated promises and resolutions; and
4 -- to work more diligently in preventing crime, gang growth, and youth violence.
There are many more that could be enumerated.
What personal resolutions should we be making?
Those are between you and your spouse and between you and God. The Scripture tells us that "See, I have gifted you with life and death, good, and evil; and you should choose life."
So, be careful in what you resolve.
If you are stuck on those personal resolutions; here is a list that might sharpen your thought processes.
When it comes to dieting you will reduce your caffeine and cholesterol intake.
Additionally, resolve to not tempt your spouse with ice cream or chocolate, except on special occasions.
The following are not special occasions: National Notary Public Day, Air Conditioning Appreciation Day, and American Aardvark Week.
When it comes to exercising, a married couple should resolve to join a health club and occasionally show up. Such attendance must entail actual use of the equipment. A couple must encourage each other to exercise, but should not be pushy.
Remarks such as the following are to be avoided: "I did 30 minutes on the bike. How much did you do?"
When it comes to chores, a husband must resolve to not spend all afternoon doing a five-minute chore. In addition he must resolve to stop pretending that he knows how to fix the plumbing. A wife must resolve to admit that she knows how to pump gas.
Quite seriously, we Mercedians must begin the New Year on a better footing than we ended the last year.
The great composer Leonard Bernstein got it right when he said, "from New Year's on -- the outlook brightens; good humor lost in a mood of failure returns. I resolve to stop complaining."
So let's not focus on our past complaints but let us look forward to a brighter tomorrow.
Happy New Year!
Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.