04 January 2016

Resolve and forget

The first day of a new year is made for resolutions.  That’s how it is on ‘important days’.  Like birthdays.  We tell all kinds of things to ourselves solemnly.  Things that begin with ‘from today onwards…’ and end with things we are determined to accomplish or things we vow to desist from.   

From now on I will take my studies seriously, a student might say.  I will shed all my bad habits, save money, focus harder on my work so I can develop my career, an adult might say.  I will take the five precepts really seriously, the religiously inclined might say.  I will abide by the 10 Commandments, really, Christians and Jews might tell themselves. 

We won’t find all politicians and crooks resolving to take ‘yahapaalanaya’ seriously or hand themselves in, respectively, of course, but that’s ok.  In general, landmark-days are for resolutions.  That’s the problem with landmark days.  They are probably the least important and least compelling reasons for ‘turning over a new leaf’. 

The other day I was reading a draft of a novel by a young man from Tangalle.  I won’t give details of the story.  The main character, as a young man, working as a waiter, finds a wallet that someone had dropped in the restaurant.  There was no one around, so he took it.  He took it home and opened it.  He found a sum of money that astounded him.  He also found a visiting card, which told him that it belonged to a foreigner he had served earlier in the evening and who had tipped him handsomely.  And then he started thinking.

“Should I return it?  Is it a theft?  No, I did not steal it, I found it!  But then again, I know who the owner is, and I know it does not belong to me.”

Greed and morality grappled with one another within him for a long time.  And then he remembered.  He remembered the first time envy and greed bested precept and fear of reprisal.  He remembered the punishment, the admonishment and the resolve not to err. 

It had not happened on the first of January.  It had not happened on the day of the Aluth Avurudda.  It had not happened on a birthday.  It all came together on a random day.  And it stuck.  Deep.  The young man returned the wallet.  What happened next is for ‘later reading’ obviously, so I will keep that page empty.  What’s important is that resolutions that tend to be kept intact for lengthy periods of time are typically made not on landmark days but unforgettable moments.  Turning points are random, in this sense.  This is perhaps why we can all look back on resolutions made on the first of January and feel a bit embarrassed.  

This does not mean we should not resolve on the first of January of course.  It probably works for some people.   And if one or two of a list of say a dozen resolutions stick, that’s something to be happy about.  Still, it is good to be real about these things.  If we leave out the fun element of ‘resolving’ then it’s good to know that it is silly to go overboard with it. 

Perhaps a good way to get a hang of the true dimensions of the resolution game is to revisit your list one week later, one month later, three months later and so on.  A better way is to take a step back and do some serious reflection when something hits you hard (metaphorically of course).  Sometimes the hit is so hard that you are sent back a few steps anyway and that helps.  But life doesn’t hit you left and right in that way at every turn.  There are some hits that are more significant than others.  Those are the moments when meaningful resolution can happen. 

We all have wallets we should return to their owners.  We all have reasons to say ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’.  We all postpone such things.  We let ourselves be overwhelmed by the realities of the moment and add a word to the must-do things. Later.  Must do, but later.  And it never happens. 

It is fun to make a list New Year Resolutions.  Sure.  It is good to keep things real too.  And real can be as fun as make-believe.