Every December 31st, I, along with many others, resolve to do things differently. For over two decades, I have annually come up with three-part resolution.
Part one: “Give To.” The goal of this resolution is to be generous toward oneself, to “give to” oneself. It can be as easy a committing to a monthly massage or weekly time to read the Sunday paper. It can be as challenging as training for a marathon or ending negative self-talk. It’s about being good to oneself.
Part two: “Take Away.” The goal of this resolution is to be austere and/or restrictive of one’s own poor behaviors and to “take away” this habit. Laudable “take away” resolutions tend to focus around an addition to _________. (All of us can find something to put in this blank.) The less challenging, though not less valuable, resolutions could be cutting down on an indulgence, say chocolate or online shopping. It’s about being strict with oneself.
Although most of us are willing to share with others our personal objectives, our “give tos” and “take aways,” for the new year, it is fair to say that the success of each is wholly controllable (and fallible) by our willpower and motivation. Some years I succeed on the “give to” and “take away;” many years I do not. And since those first two are rightfully seen as “self” resolutions, i.e., focused on the improvement–by whatever scale you might choose to measure “improvement”–we only have ourselves to blame if we opt out of our good intentions from the last day of the previous year.
The third resolution stands apart from the others, as it is not self-centered. “Give Back” encourages its maker to think beyond manicures and Marlboros; it requires a look outward. This resolution focuses on how to improve the world, in as big or small a way that might have an affect. Resolutions in the “give back” category range from volunteering to coach a youth sports team to no longer exercising (what might objectively be deemed as) “road rage” to making monthly contributions to charity.
I’m not going to share with you my “give to” or “take away” resolutions as these are ultimately only important to me despite how common their commonality would leave us feeling simpatico.
Instead, my third resolution is one that I share in the hopes that you, too, might choose to do something like this, even if you didn’t start it on January 1st.
In past years, my “give back” would be broad and community-focused. This year my “give back” is close to home and not as simple as one might think. This year, I resolve to “give back” by making meaningful physical contact with each of my children every day.
When they were little, this was literal no-brainer: my clear cognitive functioning waxed and waned based on hours on sleep; their corporal need for hugs and kisses and cuddles was insatiable.
But now, they are older. My oldest will be seventeen in two weeks. Although I tell my children “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” and all those other easy-to-say phrases that can come off sounding rote and trite, putting my arms around my children and saying nothing at all can be profound. But for it to have meaningfulness, the trick lies in specifically not using words. Silence paired with an embrace ripens the physical act itself into a deeply given and, I believe, deeply felt show of “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.” Not just words. Not to say that these verbal expressions are worthless. They’re not.
But what if instead of just hearing “I love you,” a child could feel it?
Sixteen years ago when I would hold that first baby of mine, love and pride infused my embrace. Undoubtedly, my then-almost-one-year-old boy felt that positive energy.
When did the day come that this wonderful practice became reserved for special occasions? What allowed me to fall out of the habit of touching my children in a meaningful way? Ultimately, the root of the falling away is unimportant. What matters now is the will to change.
All bold and courageous acts begin with an intention. The resolution to follow that intention through to its reality is where the change begins.
And it’s never too late to change.