One of my more delightful projects, since leaving full-time work, has been facilitating some discussion series for the Maine Humanities Council at our local public library. The second of those, just completed, was on the contemporary detective novel as social novel — we read Laurie King, Tony Hillerman, Eliot Pattison, and Katherine V. Forrest. In each of these, there’s the age-old tension between the-way-things-have-always-been and the forces of modernity; scholars of postcolonial theory will recognize all the makings of hybridity, of a world that is many things, combined, and that therefore is more complex and less easily boxed up than we might like. Hillerman says it best, in “Dance Hall of the Dead,” when a character mentions the motto over the entryway of an Indian reservation school: “Tradition is the enemy of progress.” Under these auspices, kids were pulled from their families, beaten for speaking their native languages, and turned from their cultural heritage.
What the heck does this have to do with New Year’s? I’ve been thinking about the innate violence of resolutions, the way many of us feel encouraged now to excise the warts of our being and stitch up the wounds ourselves. Lose weight (you fat slob); lay off the booze (though you’ll be dead boring if you do); stop cursing (what the #*&^! for?); get a damn job (unless you’re actually as worthless as you seem). It’s a tough time of year anyway, and when you add in all that stock-taking and all those toggle-switch models of change (flip UP for good behavior, DOWN for bad), well, it gets plain painful. I am, however, a big fan of the “intention” — a gentler, kinder version of a resolution that seems to start from the premise of oneself as a decent, rational, perhaps even lovable being, with a desire to commit to certain shifts. Intentions seem to make room for human foibles; they seem less apt to end up as “successes” or “failures.” Perhaps this is because of the kinds of traditions they stem from — Buddhist, yogic, mindful, generous. These are traditions that accept us unconditionally, that insist, in fact, upon us being always and only who we are, warts and all. In my book, these kinds of traditions are the only possibility for progress, largely because they don’t make room for the concept of “enemy.” There’s you, there’s me, there’s the world, and we’re all just trying to get along without mauling ourselves or each other too badly. I intend, then, to be kinder and more accepting of myself and others; I intend to honor the old as well as the new, in others and in myself. I intend to seek transformation and positive change in myself and others (like, for example, potty-training); I intend to love us all as hard as is humanly possible in the process.