Just before the start of a new year, many of us make elaborate resolutions to make positive changes in our lives: to lose weight, spend less and save more, give more to charity, be kinder to others, watch less television and read more. Our lists may vary from person to person and from year to year, but the one common denominator is that they are equally unlikely to be carried out with the enthusiasm with which they were conceived. There is something about the opening of a brand new calendar with so many blank pages that sparks the imagination and gives us hope that we can start over as better people.
It has occurred to me that New Year’s need not be the only time that we consider ways to improve ourselves. The church calendar is divided into liturgical seasons that are known as ordinary and extraordinary. The latter include Lent and Advent, both periods of reflection and preparation for extraordinary events. During these times, we strive to be better people so that we are worthy of the special spiritual gifts that we are about to receive. The remainder of the year is ordinary, but it need not be so. If we adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for the special graces of the special events, we can show our appreciation throughout the year. We need not endure pain and hardship to do so. It is through little acts of kindness and grace that we can make a big difference in the lives of those around us.
We all long for peace and brotherhood, but we know that this is unlikely to come about because the world is too complex and individual goals too contrary for universal contentment, and compromise seems out of the question. What is in the interest of one nation is all too often disastrous for another, and so strife is the inevitable result. Few would disagree that war is a wasteful and ultimately futile enterprise, but it’s mankind’s method of settling disputes. Would that this were not so! It is probably not in our province to settle international disagreements or to end poverty.
If we are willing to trim our expectations to manageable proportions and dream on a smaller scale, we can spread goodwill by being kind and gentle toward one another as we go about our daily lives. A smile rather than a frown will break down barriers that keep us apart. The simple act of holding open a door long enough for another to pass through is a gracious gesture, and a warm “thank you” in return completes the social compact. If we stop to give directions to a stranger we may indeed be helping that individual to keep a rendezvous with destiny.
In a world in which public acts and statements “go viral,” spreading the word about public transgressions at lightning speed, imagine that we could spread the contagion of civility. Perhaps if some of us treat others civilly, and they in turn pass on the favor, it may be possible to alter the public milieu, and soon incivility will go out of fashion. I have observed situations in which extremely angry individuals have been shamed into overcoming their rage when confronted by calm, rational, smiling individuals who seem oblivious to the anger being displayed. It is hard to be mad at one who is glad to see you.
A contagion of goodwill could easily reach epidemic proportions, and once it is spread around a neighborhood, it could spread from town to town, city to city, state to state, and eventually country to country. There would be no reason for wars to settle disputes because people would realize that their common destiny is best served by cooperation and compromise. The whole world could sign a Declaration of Interdependence and live in harmony. Even if we are not in a position to make changes on a global scale, we can begin at home and test our reach. It may extend farther than we think!
Ann Dow is a freelance writer from West Deptford.
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