During the Christmas season, we’re encouraged to be generous, to think of those less fortunate. Soup kitchens have to turn away volunteers for serving holiday meals and charity is at the forefront of the common rhetoric. Once we shift our thoughts toward the new year, however, our goals seem to shift from community improvement and toward self-improvement.
Sure, part of this abrupt annual attitude change is due to the fact that the calendar marks the end of a tax year, and some were only looking for year-end deductions. But, that’s only a small part. The shift seems to prevail over society as a whole and not just over the “one percent.” Even genuine generosity seems to drop off after the ball drops in Times Square. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
At the end of the year, we reflect on the past. We can see where we’ve experienced abundance, and we can share from it. But giving is much harder to do when it requires sacrifice. At the beginning of the year, we look ahead to the unknown. We fear the unknown. On day one, even for those who have work, offices and banks are closed, so nearly everyone’s year-to-date income is zero dollars. It’s hard to give to others when we’re apprehensive about our own futures. Accordingly, we turn our focus inward. This affects not only our material generosity, but the way relate to others on the whole. We resolve to be the best we can be. Because, surely, we think, this will guarantee an abundant future. Self-improvement is all well and good, but not if it leads to self-centeredness.
This year, we should not forget all the blessings of the past just because the calendar has turned another page. We should carry the generosity of the holiday season over, and incorporate it into our new beginnings! We should continue to be others-focused even though the bell-ringers have packed up their red buckets and are no longer there to remind us that “need has no season.”
Since the new year is in full swing, many resolutions have already been made and broken. So, the following suggestions are not resolutions, but rather “aspirations” for the new year. While they address three common areas of self-improvement, these aspirations put the focus on others first:
1. Exercise. Walk around your block once a week and pick up litter. Maybe by being out in your neighborhood consistently, you will find opportunities for conversations with neighbors, and you’ll learn about more ways to help the neighborhood! And, a little fresh air just might do you some good.
2. Diet. Don’t flee from panhandlers just because of mild uneasiness. If someone asks for money for food, offer to buy him a bite to eat. He may not like the suggestion, but he just may need that meal, and take you up on it!
3. Career. Compliment one person each day on something you appreciate about his or her work. It could be a co-worker who makes an insightful suggestion, or a barista who gives exceptional attention to your over-customized order. Encourage the excellence that you see in others as you strive for it yourself.
Look to the future with hope, remember you are not alone, and don’t stop giving in this new year!