On beginnings

VLADIMIR: It’s the start that’s difficult.

ESTRAGON: You can start from anything.

VLADIMIR: Yes, but you have to decide.

ESTRAGON: True.

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

So here we are in 2022, and – if you’re anything like me – looking forward to it with some apprehension. But there’s no denying that a new year is a good opportunity, if only psychologically, to review what might be possible and to reflect on some of the positive actions we can take.

I am not a great enthusiast for New Year’s Resolutions; they have always struck me as a reliable way to set yourself up for failure. What none of us needs right now is an additional source of tension. Look on the following as a set of helpful suggestions, rather than a to-do list. But maybe consider doing at least some of them.

  • Repair and extend your personal networks. By which I mean networks of actual people you know in real life, not just online. (Social media has given the phrase “imaginary friend” a whole new meaning.) We all have friends and family members we have drifted apart from, especially with lockdown. Get back in touch. You’ll feel better, and you’ll have – and provide – that little bit more support. This is a big part of what keeps society from unravelling, and we’ll certainly need more of that.
  • Learn a real-life skill. Anything that takes your fancy. Knitting. Sailing a boat. Welding. Map-reading. (How many people can read a paper map these days?) Learn another language, or a card-game, or how to bake your own bread. Something that has been on my list since forever is brewing beer. Apart from anything else, it will get you away from the Internet, and you might even meet other people with the same interests (see above). And you never know what use it may be in the future.
  • Make time in your life for reflection. As Pascal said: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This has become an even more acute issue since his day. We all need to wean ourselves off the river of guff that pours over us daily on all sides. I don’t know what is of real importance in your life – and neither do you, if you never stop to think about it – but I can guarantee you it isn’t in your Facebook feed.
  • Get to know the place where you live. Explore its history too. Why did people come to to live there, and where from? Have those reasons changed, and if so, why? Learn to love it, if you can. (And if you can’t, why not? Is there somewhere else that you should be?) Too many of us have no real connection to where we live; rootlessness is no better for people than it is for trees. Which brings me to:
  • Plant a tree. If you don’t have space for one, find somewhere that does. Especially in urban areas, there are lots of green corners that nobody cares about. There is an Indian proverb to the effect that everyone should plant five trees in their lifetime, and certainly if everyone did that the world would be a better place in many respects. George Orwell expressed regret that he had never planted a walnut. As he also said:

The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.

Finally, I have this suggestion – which could also form part of my first one, depending on who you choose:

  • Forgive someone. I’ve written elsewhere on this subject, but it’s a very simple thing to do, even if it may not always be easy, and it will certainly benefit you and perhaps them. Why carry that burden for another year? Don’t you have enough of them already?

Those are my thoughts; I’d welcome yours in the comments. And let me take this opportunity to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.

Comments are welcome, but I do pre-moderate them to make sure they comply with the house rules.

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