Don’t Rush Your New Year’s Resolutions

Posted: January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

Don’t! Don’t rush into writing out your New Year’s Resolutions just yet–and it’s already January the 10th. That’s right: don’t rush into this annual very momentous occasion. For writing resolutions ain’t that easy. Not if you really take doing resolutions seriously. And if you don’t, why do it at all, I ask myself, in woe and wonder, and with charity and good wishes for all and sundry, both for you and your loved ones, and maybe, just maybe, for your putative enemies as well.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890I mention enemies because with the new year beginning, shouldn’t we, even if only for a second or two, consider once again the wisdom of the famous admonitions contained in that most magnificent recording of resolutions, the Sermon on the Mount? Sure we should. So there we read about your enemies that if they take a whack at your left cheek, turn and offer them the one of your right; and if they take your shirt, offer them your down vest, heavy wool socks, and fleece lined overcoat. That’s right. I didn’t make this up. I couldn’t. Surely you’ll agree these would be challenging New Year’s Resolutions we all should make. Yet most likely most won’t and, in all candor, you can probably include me in this reprobate group.

So you can see already, can you not, that making resolutions isn’t for sissies, or to be taken lightly, as though you’re looking through a sparkling clean glass recently taken fresh from the dishwasher. No. Resolutions create an enormous conundrum, a mind numbing riddle, lodged inside an outsized enigma, forcing us to consider anew some of the most brain boggling metaphysical mysteries known to the human heart. For instance, consider this my very dear New Year’s Tingling Turtle: do or don’t you have free will? No, not free love; free will?

Well, what’s your answer? Shouldn’t you have already –meaning many years ago–wrestled with this all important question and have at your finger tips or, if you prefer, at the very outer most tip of your tongue, some reasonably coherent answer to this age old puzzle? Of course you should. OK, then, what is it, exactly? Assuming you do remember your conclusion, now forced to think about it again, how confident are you that it’s coherent and compelling? You see the point here is that if you’re not sure you have free will, then most likely–no, for sure, you’re wasting your time even thinking about making New Year’s Resolutions.

Indeed the very idea of a resolution really makes no sense since the absence of free will leaves your actions determined, meaning you, as you, never can resolve anything. Your actions have already been plotted out for you, without you ever having been consulted, and without you ever knowing the plotting had already taken place.

free will

Now I hope you can see more clearly why I said you shouldn’t rush into making New Year’s Resolutions. You absolutely need to consider this free will issue more carefully before sitting down and scribbling four or five or ten or whatever number of New Year’s Resolutions you were figuring you’d like to make so you can be like everyone else.

And here’s another little mystery you might want to spend a few minutes reflecting on. What if–that is, just suppose for a moment–you’re thinking one of your resolutions involves helping a spouse, or significant other, or potential spouse, or possible significant other with a challenging task–say, like losing weight. Sounds great, does it not? What could be more loving, more helpful than lending a hand to a person you feel so much love for achieve the arduous and very laudable task of losing 15 pounds of ugly, cholesterol saturated fat? Answer: absolutely nothing. I mean it’s a life prolonging goal. Less fat, less weight, equals longer life. Q.E.D.

Well, my dear, high minded, utterly altruistic, Turtlelet, what if your spouse, or significant other, or your favorite offspring, or friend, or sibling, or parent, or even grandparent can’t make a resolution to lose weight because they no more have free will than do you? In other words, they can’t resolve to lose weight just as you can’t. And any effort indeed every effort on your part to assist them in losing pounds will only create loads—I mean—loads and loads of bad blood. So don’t make your New Year’s Resolution to try and help anyone lose weight, for you’ll only make that person hugely dislike you for your host of altruistic efforts. If you want to keep your loved ones close, don’t volunteer to help them lose weight. Please, trust me on this one.

Where does this leave me? I’m sorry to say—in the soup. I’ve got some hum dinger resolutions I’ve been hoping to share with you, but so far, I’m hesitant. One side of me tells me to make the resolutions, and the other—the thoughtful philosophic side—strongly argues I should take my time, as should you, big hearted, well meaning, hugely dedicated newly resolved 2014 Reader of our wonderfully friendly and provocative Turtle for Flaneurs.

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