The change from one year to the next means little to me. It could, and has been at different times of the year over the centuries, and I’ve never thought it a reason to party at inflated prices or to make promises to myself that I probably won’t keep. But, as arbitrary as the change in the calendar is, I find myself wanting to sum up and make some sense of the previous year.
At the risk of being sententious (to say nothing of pretentious), here is what I learned (or, in several cases, relearned) during 2011:
- Apparently, I’m a relatively tidy person after all. I’m not fanatic about putting things away, but, once everything is in order, I prefer keeping things that way if it’s not too much trouble. This is a real discovery for me; having lived decades with a woman for whom messiness was the norm (and wanting to continue living with her and avoid arguments), I honestly didn’t know.
- Temperament is more important than interests. Just because you share a belief or interest with someone is no guarantee that you’ll get along. You may find some people whose ideas you despise more agreeable than many supposedly on your side.
- Anger is the logical, sane response to bullying, injustice, and possibly a few other things. The trick, of course, is to see clearly when anger is appropriate, and not rationalize succumbing to it simply because it is a relief or feels good
- One reason Proverbs 26 immediately follows “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him” with “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” might be to emphasize that, with some people, you can’t win either way. I’ve decided that I don’t mind fools thinking themselves clever at my expense so long as they do so somewhere else.
- Logical discussion and efforts to repair relationships both assume that everyone involved has a genuine interest in making progress. If they don’t, you’re wasting your time.
- Contrary to what I once assumed, the average man or woman under forty-five is much more uptight about sexuality and relationships than my generation. In particular, they are less likely to view frankness in such matters as a virtue. This difference probably means that, twenty or thirty years from now, the middle-aged are going to be embarrassed by what their parents get up to in the retirement home.
- For me, joining an organization is almost always a mistake. Better for me to be a fellow-traveler, to coach from the sidelines or be a behind the scenes adviser than directly involved. If nothing else, I have trouble keeping my mouth shut when I see something important being neglected – and that’s not a trait that most people in charge appreciate, especially if you turn out to be correct.
- No matter what their educational background, the average person isn’t interested in nuance or accuracy of observation (that is, what I summarize as “truth”). What they want to know is who is good and who is evil. If you suggest that very few issues are black and white, they usually classify you as evil and therefore fair game.
- Personal convenience or comfort is more important to most people than ethics,morality, or their own long-term advantage. Asked to sacrifice convenience or comfort, most people will happily jettison their alleged beliefs. Often, they will then do precisely what they object to in others.
- Once I got over the first shock of being unexpectedly widowed, my circumstances seemed like the chance for a fresh start. And I have changed some aspects of my routine, especially since I am no longer taking care of a slowly ailing person. But, when the dust settles, I have largely fallen into the same routines as before. The difference is that now I have to endure them alone – and the small freedoms I now have don’t begin to compensate for the fact.