I hate New Year’s resolutions. For one thing, I can never think of anything creative (lose 10 pounds, eat healthier, exercise more, blah blah blah). For another, I’m just bad at follow-through. (I think I’m still meant to be signing up for that yoga class I was going to take in 2013.)
But I do like to take stock of things as the calendar turns, so this year, I’ve created this list of resolutions that I think we should all try – including me.
Following are my ideas for creating a kinder, more compassionate world in 2019 – in six small, simple steps.
1. Agree to disagree.
Here’s a crazy thought: People who don’t share the same views as you can in fact be rational, intelligent, thoughtful and good people. We can disagree on countless topics – whether those are big-picture issues of religion, politics, social justice or economic philosophy, or day-to-day differences over parenting or driving habits or language usage or food choices – and still, in fact, respect each other’s opinions.
Social media has done its polarizing best to eradicate the idea of “civil disagreement,” but let’s try to bring it back in 2019, shall we? Let’s shoot for having discussions where we don’t name-call the first time someone expresses a view we disagree with. Where we ask thoughtful, respectful questions about what makes people feel the way they do. Where we listen to the answers to those questions and appreciate that the other person holds a legitimate point of view, even if we remain in disagreement with it.
No, I don’t mean that you should never stand up against genuinely hateful opinions. Continue to call out racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and injustice of all kinds. Continue to meet ill-informed opinions with facts, evidence and reasoned argument.
And, yes, there are some people you just won’t be able to have a civil disagreement with. Remember that you can, in fact, just walk away. Mute them. Unfriend them. Unfollow them. Ignore them. Or keep on arguing if you must – in the hopes of getting through, if not to that crazy uncle or that friend from high school who believes some just-plain-wacky stuff, then to one of their friends or social media followers.
Just please, whatever you do, do not assume that everyone whose world view is different than yours is automatically wrong.
2. Assume the best in other people.
If you have to choose one habit that will immediately change your mindset about the world, this may be the one. Really, it would be much healthier to assume NOTHING about other people, either way, but we’re human beings: leaping to conclusions kinda goes with the territory. So, if you must make assumptions about other people, try making them the kindest possible assumptions.
Next time someone offends you, annoys you or does something that grates on your nerves, grant them the same grace you hope someone would grant you on your worst day.
That woman who cut you off in traffic? Maybe she’s distracted and in a hurry because she’s racing to the hospital to see a sick friend. That parent who’s on the phone seemingly ignoring their screaming toddler? Maybe that toddler has been sick and teething for a week and mom just desperately needed to get out of the house and this three minutes on the phone is, in fact, the only three minutes of anything resembling her own space she’s going to get all day. That apparently young, healthy person on the SkyTrain who’s staring at their feet and not giving up their seat for that pregnant woman or elderly man? Maybe that person, in fact, suffers from a disability or condition you can’t see.
So before you make a snarky comment about “lady drivers” or “entitled millennial moms” or “rude and selfish young people these days,” pause for a moment to consider that that person, like you, is a human being – a human being who, right now, may be having a bad moment, but who is neither a horrible person nor an example of all that’s wrong with the world today.
And while you’re at it, take a breath and remember that, at some point in your week, you’ve probably inadvertently offended someone too – when you accidentally pulled into a parking spot that someone else was waiting for because you didn’t notice their car, or when you let the supermarket door close without even realizing a person with an armload of groceries was right behind you, or when you didn’t smile and say hello back to a stranger on the street because you were preoccupied or distracted or just in a grumpy, I-haven’t-had-my-coffee-yet kind of mood.
Hopefully someone who spotted you in those moments realized that you, too, are just a human being who sometimes makes mistakes, and assumed the best of you.
3. Choose compassion, not judgment.
Once you’ve chosen to view other people in the best possible light, this one comes more naturally. But, in a world where social media shaming has become the norm and videos of people having bad moments are now consumed as viral entertainment by strangers around the globe, it’s an idea the world is in desperate need of in 2019.
When you see a stranger having a bad day, don’t let it become an opportunity for you to mutter under your breath about them, or to make loud comments to another onlooker about them, or worst of all to whip out your camera and record them having that bad day and then share the video on social media for all to see.
I’m thinking particularly of things like recording the tantrums of screaming children at restaurants or on airplanes, or standing in judgment on a parent who leaves her children alone in the car while she runs in to the store to pick up milk. But it applies in pretty much any circumstance: When people are melting down or failing in some way at that moment, turn off the judgment switch.
Instead, lend a hand - whether that’s by keeping an eye on the child in the car (quietly, and from a distance) until the mother returns, by distracting the screaming toddler, by giving a struggling person a sympathetic smile, or by the simple act of stepping up and asking, “Can I help?”
No, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t intervene in cases where someone’s behaviour is putting another person at risk, or that we as a society should overlook instances where someone is in genuine need of help. In cases where authorities need to be called, then do so. But without the accompanying video on social media, please. And still without judgment. Because you don’t know anyone else’s story, period – and it’s not up to you to judge their life.
4. Be yourself – and let others do the same.
This one ought to be simple, but somehow it’s not. And, as Instagrammable images of people’s lives flood our social media feeds, we seem less and less likely to be able to follow this good old-fashioned advice that Mom offered you way back in Grade 2.
You don’t need to apologize for your house, or your clothes, or your weight, or your car, or your choices as a parent. You don’t need to be seen drinking the correct hipster-approved craft beer and noshing on stylish meals that earn “likes” from your foodie friends while watching the latest cool, edgy series on Netflix. You can go ahead and enjoy your cluttered living room, your comfy mom jeans and those ten extra pounds you’ve put on since the summer while crying over the latest episode of This Is Us. (Yes, I’m talking about myself, OK? Don’t judge me.) You can choose to love your mass-market beer and your chain-store coffee and your fast-food dinner if that’s what makes you happy, because you’re you, and that’s just fine.
And while you’re at it, you don’t need to mock people whose lives and choices don’t fall into your approved category of awesomeness. Don’t like pumpkin spice lattes? Don’t drink ’em. Think Pokemon Go is kinda stupid? Don’t play it. But lay off the ridicule of those who choose otherwise.
Surely the need to mock people who make different choices than us is a trait we should have left behind in middle school.
5. Shut up and listen.
If you’ve ever caught yourself saying: “Why’s everyone so easily offended by everything?” or “Why are people getting so up in arms about (fill in the blank)? It doesn’t bother me at all,” then this one’s for you. Here’s the thing: Just because something doesn’t bother you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t bother anyone else. So before you utter the word “snowflake” to refer to anything other than white stuff falling from the sky, just think about this:
Your life and experience is just exactly that: your life and experience. Your perceptions of the world are shaped by who you are and where you came from. Other people may have experienced reality very differently from you, and it behooves you try to understand the reality of others. This is especially true if you happen to be the possessor of privilege - i.e. if you are any or all of the following: white, male, straight, cisgender, middle-class, educated, able-bodied.
If you’re white, please don’t tell a person of colour why something wasn’t racist. If you’re male, please don’t explain to a woman why a comment wasn’t “mansplaining” or a joke wasn’t sexist. If you’re straight, please don’t lament to an LGBTQ acquaintance that you don’t get a “Straight Pride Day.” And so on, and so on.
Just zip it. And listen. Listen to why, from their point of view, that incident was in fact racist or that so-called joke was in fact sexist. Still disagree? That’s fine. Ask a few more (polite, courteous, non-confrontational) questions about what they mean and where their opinion comes from – and listen to those answers too. Still disagree? Nod, smile and walk away. But keep your mind open and think about it all later.
You may surprise yourself by actually learning something – and by gaining a better understanding of other people.
Yes, I mean exactly that. Sing. Best case: join a choir and surround yourself with other people who are singing, too.
It’s good for your health – quite literally. Studies have shown that singing in a choir helps to regulate your heartbeat, reduce stress levels and depression, improve symptoms of some diseases (including Parkinson’s and lung disease), improve feelings of social well-being and even potentially increase your life expectancy. And, good news: you don’t have to be professional chorister to experience those benefits – even “mediocre” choral singing produces the same emotional, cognitive and social benefits.
Plus, it’s fun.
Moreover, all the elements that go into successful choral singing actually serve as pretty good guidance for the rest of life.
When we’re all singing from the same page, with a common goal, the whole can become infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Just as a group of “average” singers can – with rehearsal and cooperation and good leadership – become an exceptional choir, so can a group of ordinary human beings join forces to create an exceptional world.
Which is what we’re all going to help do in 2019, starting right now – and starting with No. 1 on this list. Which means that even if you completely disagree with everything in this post, we’re still cool.
Happy new year to you and yours.