Op-Ed: Forget everything that means nothing, and other New Year’s resolutions

The New Year's Eve ball rests at the top of a building overlooking Times Square in New York on Tuesday.
The New Year’s Eve ball rests at the top of a building overlooking Times Square in New York on Tuesday.
(Seth Wenig / AP)

Several years ago, I worked in the creative department of a tech company. One of the men who was my boss (everybody was my boss) used to wear a T-shirt that read “Forget everything that means nothing.”

Over the last year, I absentmindedly wrote that slogan on the inside of my palm or along my forefinger a handful of times. I never did succeed in following that advice.

The year 2016 brought us a profane trinity of senselessness, selfishness and abject cruelty. The image most often associated with the year was a dumpster fire. The gripes about 2016 were so legion that they spawned gripes about the 2016 gripes, think pieces about the 2016 think pieces; how else could such a year end but in a swirling, suffocating mass of contrarian #content?


But 2017: There’s a blank slate, ripe for forgetting everything that means nothing. What could it hurt to try? If we’re going to be strong enough to tangle with all the evil in this world, we can’t afford to be weighed down by meaningless garbage.

Resolutions get a bad rap, mostly because people always set out to do things they don’t actually want to do, then they fail and feel guilty. So here is a 10-part note to self, comprised only of things I deeply want to do, shared in case it connects.

But 2017: There’s a blank slate, ripe for forgetting everything that means nothing. What could it hurt to try?

Clear out our hearts and minds. As Toni Morrison wrote, “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.” Got thin-loving people camping in your heart or mind? Let them go, ritualistically, quietly or directly.

Then fill them again. Which people in your life do you feel happiest around? Write them down. The list can be three or 19 people long; there’s no salvation in round numbers and no prize for large ones. Make an effort to spend more time with your most delightful people.

Ready our bodies. In Haruki Murakami’s slim memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” he explains that his physical condition is integrally connected to his work — he can’t write well unless he’s strong in body and mind. It makes no difference whether you’re a writer, educator, civil servant, nurse, businessperson, clerk, service worker or parent. We have to train ourselves physically so we can function at a high level mentally.


Ready our imaginations. Read fiction set in countries you’ve never been to. Watch sci-fi and fantasy movies. Donald Trump is president of the United States; crazy stuff happens here on Earth. We need to entertain wild ideas and incubate outlandish possibilities. Murakami also wrote “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Original thought is as important as it’s ever been.

Do what you can do. Many of us want to be of service, but we’re not all made to serve in the same ways. I taught English to second-language learners three separate times before acknowledging that I was terrible at it and, though I loved my students, I hated teaching that subject. Too often we do the thing that we think looks or feels noble, but which doesn’t fit us. If we find something useful we want to do, rather than want to have done, we’re more likely to add real value and stay with it.

Support the people we admire. Yes, the whole nuclear war tweeting situation brings our mortality into sharper relief, but our time with each other has never been guaranteed. Let’s stop saving the eulogies for the funeral. Likewise, if we enjoy the work people do, let’s make an effort to support them financially. I’m not just talking about paying for news, though I’m not not talking about that. I’m also talking about supporting musicians and entrepreneurs, educators and thought leaders.

Keep better secrets. Reading all the stories of how George Michael made such pains to keep his philanthropy a secret, and how his generous giving has only come to light upon his death, makes me think about the kinds of secrets we keep. So often they’re to protect ourselves from judgment. What if they were to protect ourselves from praise?

Get informed. Learn widely and broadly about the past and present. This can be as simple as listening to a world radio station while commuting to work. The United States is one of nearly 200 countries. The others have not stood still while we’ve gone through this election cycle. Let’s reconnect.

Get outside. It’s hard to be hateful or feel self-important when you’re next to the ocean or in a forest.

Be kind. We’re probably going to act like jerks sometimes and not be able to immediately identify why. If, for instance, someone tries to squeeze into a too-small spot in a crowded subway, try to imagine the most charitable backstory possible for that person. (Reading David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” speech helps.) Sometimes we can’t help ourselves and we’ll snap at strangers and people we love alike. That’s OK. Just explain and apologize; accept the apology when it comes to us. Forget everything that means nothing.

Melissa Batchelor Warnke is a contributing writer to Opinion. Follow her on Twitter @velvetmelvis.

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