A new year is upon us, the earth beginning another revolution around the sun—if, of course, there can be imagined to be a beginning and an end to the cycle, a start and a finish, rather than a continuum. How much better for us here in the northern latitudes to celebrate in the dead of winter, rather than to picture things starting over in the middle of summer, as they must do further south. A renewal, a fresh start, a regeneration, new chances and new opportunities. From dark to light, death to life, cold to warm, winter to spring. The imagery lends itself to resolutions.
The days, 31st-1st, and numbered years, of course, human constructs based on measuring the invention of linear time as a whole, and on this particular calendar given in relation to the life of a religious figure. Why wouldn’t the year begin anew on the solstice, at the very least? No matter. For the purposes of this post we’re going to go with it. As of midnight, the year is 2020, the year of hindsight, and a year of new beginnings based on lessons garnered from life experiences to this point. Why not?
What I have mostly been dwelling on these past months of 2019, or perhaps for years now, concerns individual efforts, successes, failures, and imaginings as to the amount of influence we can affect upon any aspect of our personal realities. We are very limited, it would seem, in our impact, though not entirely without recourse or decisions.
We have all heard that we often cannot control circumstances, merely our reactions to those circumstances. Examples might be as benign as the weather, or as malignant as the death of a loved one. This notion could be seen as both depressing and inspiring. Either way, it would be difficult to argue its basis in reality. Perhaps a more poignant take moves beyond reactions to propose that we cannot control our circumstances, but yet we can control our character, comprised as it is of attitudes, emotions, and actions—the latter being the most important consideration. Defining values in a continual process of growth and awareness prepares us for inconsistencies inevitable in the environments we occupy.
In this world most things are outside of our control, including, to a large degree, our individual selves. Our genetics, for instance, are beyond us. We don’t get to select our gender, or the color of our skin, or guarantee any sort of early financial stability or loving home environment. All are born with predispositions towards health and/or illness. Our actions and life decisions may influence these susceptibilities, for better or worse, and our attitudes may also determine certain outcomes—though most would be willing to admit neither is failsafe in preventing, curing, or even intensifying vulnerabilities. We’ve all heard of 30-year-old marathon runners collapsing of heart attacks and smokers living to 100.
Furthermore, we can’t even determine seemingly less significant things in our lives. Our thoughts, to be specific, are often well beyond our control. It proves incredibly difficult to retrain one’s brain to cultivate more desirable initial reactions to given situations. We are people of prejudice and judgement, each of us to one degree or another. We make snap decisions based on all manner of input informed by past life experiences and influences. We may find humor in inappropriate instances. Some may even be aroused by socially taboo subjects, or programmed to find pleasure in negative behaviors. In these instances, the thoughts themselves are inescapable. It is how we choose to act upon them which will determine their impact on individual and communal realities.
We can also not predict the future, nor the actions of other people, nor the universe as a whole. No matter how carefully we plan for contingencies or try to shelter ourselves from emotional abuse or physical detriment, there are too many factors to account for in ensuring success of any measure. We all have good days and bad days, interact with good people and bad people, and must deal with personal frailty and the juggernaut which is the world around us.
So it is true then that we cannot control the vast majority of influences in our lives. It is also true, however, that we may express some autonomy in how we react to situations as they present themselves to us along the way. We can strive to nurture neutral or even positive responses to seemingly negative situations. We may also work to extract ourselves, or protect ourselves from those situations, though this may not always be immediately possible. Above all, we may work to learn and grow from the circumstances we live through. This is the cultivating character part, the importance of determining personal values in an effort to strengthen resolve in relation to any given condition. This is the 20/20 hindsight. Not an examination of how things should have been done in the past, but how the lessons we’ve learned to this point might serve us in the present.
Integrity, the act of doing what we know to be right even when no one else is around to notice, proves essential in our progress towards becoming fully realized individuals. ‘To thine own self be true.’ Without defining one’s values, there may be no right or wrong to speak of, no clarity or guidance for future predicaments or accomplishments. We must determine our personal philosophies and strive to achieve customized incarnations of said values. Simply put, to be the best that we can be. To give the best of ourselves in all situations, regardless of external response, or lack thereof.
The Golden Rule posits that we should treat others as we would like to be treated; similar maxims are said to exist in most religions and cultures. This is the expression of our character and values. Unfortunately, there is no assurance that those we treat in this manner will treat us the same way in return, yet another variable outside of our control. Perhaps an appropriate (albeit wordy) addendum would be to determine how we would like to be treated, find people that treat us that way, and do our best to reciprocate. Our personal values not only dictate how we treat others, but also determine the respect we hold for our own well-being.
This is the important lesson: personal value systems are not refined to influence others, though we may hope to exert positive results through our efforts. They are meant to inform our intentions with respect to desired outcomes in our own lives. There is no guarantee these outcomes will manifest, but understanding what we are willing to accept as edifying and gratifying allows one to abandon or embrace relationships—with people, possessions, passions, activities, etc.—with clear mind. They allow us to receive, examine, and respond to those aforementioned circumstances with a predicated level of consciousness. They permit us to do what is right in our own lives, and according to our own principles, regardless of happenstance, or the consequences of forces beyond our control. They fortify us in the present and help us to prepare ourselves for the future.