The end of the year always feels like a purification ritual, with all sins of commission and omission cleansed in an antiseptic cocoon of food, alcohol and sociability. You’re forgiven all your trespasses on condition that you make a contract with yourself to stop being such a wanker. I’ll try harder, you hiccup, as the clock strikes the previous year to death. Starting on the first of January I’ll quit smoking, lose weight, get fit, learn to play the saxophone, spend more time with the family, get a real job, be more considerate of my spouse, stop embezzling pension funds.
The concept of New Year resolutions dates back, according to a badly designed website with poor footnoting, to ancient Babylonian spring celebrations about 4,000 years ago. It’s now a beloved ritual, but the whole idea is widely held to be a bit of a joke since most people crack under the pressure within a few weeks, like those who mean to quit smoking; or within a few days, like those who decide to spend more time with the family. The most popular resolution in ancient Babylon, by the way, was apparently to return borrowed farm equipment; so there’s an idea for those who want to go really traditional.
Ploughs and threshers aside, it’s silly to think that just because you’re starting afresh on what you think of as a clean slate, you will get around to doing all the things you’ve thus far neglected—an idea beautifully summed up by the satirical newspaper The Onion, which quotes one Matt Tulley, cabinetmaker, as saying: “I'm glad New Year's is coming up. I've been looking for an excuse to finally take care of this gangrenous leg.”
But there’s much to be said for just even announcing that you’re going to try. Frankly, it wouldn’t hurt for nations to come up with some resolutions of their own too. As in other cases it’s pretty certain that it won’t work out as planned, but it’s the thought that counts. I would love to see the Government of India publicly proclaim their aims for 2007. If I were them (and thus far they have doggedly refused to include me) I’d start with the following:
I will play sustainable development-sustainable development instead of politics-politics.
I will take the long-term view for the good of the country, and not the short-term view for the good of the next election.
I will be responsive to the citizenry.
I will not throw furniture around in Parliament.
I will lose weight.
It’s not as if this is a one-way street. The citizenry must do its bit too, and here’s mine:
I will be a responsible, law-abiding citizen with a small carbon footprint.
I will dedicate a few volunteer hours every week to work for the underprivileged.
I will live my life in a harmonious balance of mind, body and soul.
I will not procrastinate.
I will lose weight.
At the same time it is important to fix achievable goals, so in addition to this wishlist I have prepared a number of more reasonable resolutions, as follows:
I will not write any more columns about my teeth.
Yes, it’s a difficult time of year. Scientists record huge spikes in world levels of guilt and lip-service. But we must all grind on en masse, resolving away, because as Abba said way back in the 1980s in a depressive song called 'Happy New Year': even though the dreams we had before/ Are all dead, nothing more than confetti on the floor, still, May we all have our hopes, our will to try/ If we don’t, we might as well lay down and die.