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30 Dec 2015

Know Your Neighbors: Why Wait Until New Year's to Make Positive Changes?

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It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to articulate our intentions about how we plan to be better human beings in the coming year.

Resolutions imply that we have to stop doing something, or give up something—which assumes we’re not already perfect.

Plan to exercise more? What’s stopped you so far? Think that’ll change?

Resolve to eat smarter or exercise? Why not start today?

Commit to repair your relationship with someone? What are you waiting for—an engraved invitation?

The older I get, the faster time seems to go by, and there’s not much life left to get “me” right. With all of our daily responsibilities—kids, deadlines, bills to pay, family and friends with issues that inexorably involve me in some way—focusing on myself and becoming a better person seems hopelessly counterproductive.

Besides, I’m not sure I need to figure out how to get better. I have a good friend who says, “I’m perfect … and improving!” I think maybe I’m as good as I’m ever going to get. However, I do expect to keep making new mistakes; heaven knows I should by now have learned enough from the old ones.

When 2015 began, I thought it was going to be a good year. All the bad stuff from 2014—a major downsizing move, my car dying—was behind me. Think again. Side effects from a supposedly simple surgery took a few months of recovery. The implant to replace my front tooth took more than eight months to get right; a false tooth that kept coming loose and made it difficult to eat, let alone smile. The man in my life went through his father’s death, gone more than he’s been here. Major illnesses afflicting several people important to me have kept me on edge for their survival. Financial problems complicated everything.

George Santayana said it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So first, it’s important to list those things I know I won’t change. I’ll push the speed limit up to 10 mph over what’s posted—I know it’s technically breaking the law, but they don’t seem to stop you if you don’t go over that. I’ll keep smoking as long as my lungs seem to be OK; I know it’s not healthy, but I’ve been doing it for more than 60 years, so promises to stop are basically useless. I’ll occasionally eat things that make me happy, but may not make my body feel good: crispy chicken skin, hot salsa, crisp bacon, and popcorn with that buttery stuff and lots of salt. I’ll continue to give myself permission to cancel appointments. I’ll limit talking to a particular relative who is so critical about my kids that every conversation feels like I have to defend myself.

Life is too short to keep butting your head against a stone wall. Some things, no matter how much you know they might be good for you, aren’t worth the stress of actually doing them.

Now, my resolutions for this coming year?

I resolve to remind myself that I already have all the time there is. There will be no getting frustrated because traffic ahead of me is slowed; no need to dart from lane to lane to get somewhere two minutes earlier. No point in cursing out another driver when that idiot can’t hear me anyway. No need to keep looking at my watch in line at the post office. Although “patience is a virtue,” I feel no need to be virtuous; I just refuse to feel anxious about things over which I have no control.

I resolve to accomplish at least one constructive thing every day. It may be doing the laundry or sweeping the patio. I could decide to walk to the market instead of driving two blocks—if my 93-year old neighbor can do it, so can I. It could be to finally drop off those clothes I’ve been putting in a bag for the past six months so someone who needs them can actually get them. I resolve never to go to bed without acknowledging that I’ve accomplished at least one thing that day—beyond watching old shows on TV, that is. 

I resolve to “pay it forward” daily. Of course, this means I have to pay attention to the little things others do for me, like letting me go first at the market when I have fewer items in my basket, or giving me the parking place for which I’ve been patiently waiting, or letting me pull pennies from the stash when I’m only a couple of coins short. Whatever it may be, I will notice whenever it happens, and consider it my job for that day to pay it forward toward someone else.

I resolve to give at least one compliment every day to someone, whether I know them or not. I was once waiting in line at the movies, and the woman behind me tapped my shoulder and said, “I can’t help noticing that you have an absolutely perfect haircut.” As someone who generally hates her own hair, I still remember that, and how unexpectedly flattered I was. I want to do that for at least one person every day.

I resolve to never let hateful comments go by without saying, quietly and calmly, “I find that very offensive.” No further conversation is necessary. No matter what the other person says, my response will be, “Let’s just change the subject,” and I will refuse to be drawn in any further. People need to know when their lack of manners has gone over the line. I hope you’ll do that if you hear something hateful about me. Remember: Silence is tacit approval.

I resolve to give myself permission to be selfish. When I was growing up, being called selfish was the worst criticism my father could hurl. As I grew up, I realized that “selfish” just means caring about yourself. I won’t exclude caring about others—it means I have to be OK before I can help anyone else, just as airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask before you attach your child’s mask. You can’t take care of others if you have nothing left to give.

Will these resolutions make me a better person? I’m pretty much who I’m going to be. But if these resolutions mean I don’t spend the time I do have worrying about losing time; and that I cross at least one thing off my “to do” list every day; and that I’m conscious about the little things even total strangers do that make me feel good; and that I quietly but firmly stand up for my values; and that I take care of myself so I can be of use to others—then 2016 will be a good year.

My bottom line advice for the upcoming year comes from a website called InspireMore: If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.

Happy New Year!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

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