“And you may ask yourself: Well…how did I get here?” – The Talking Heads
I must confess, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. By their very nature, with our added hyped-up expectations and overzealous enthusiasm for new beginnings, resolutions are bound to fail. More than 50 percent of us proclaim to start anew each Jan. 1 (well, actually Jan. 3, because Jan. 2 is the Rose Bowl!) America, we are in a bad relationship with New Year’s resolutions. Oh, it starts innocently enough, telling ourselves this time it will be different. So we begin with just a predictable, bordering on compulsory, goal of losing weight, working out or saving more money. And by the first Sunday in February, we find ourselves wedged between the chicken wings and the corn chips, watching others get paid millions to exercise, checking our numbers on the company squares board while being enamored with commercials urging us to spend. We have the best of intentions, yet, somehow, it never quite works out the way we hoped it would. And therein lies the problem: Hope.
By nature, I am an optimist and search for hope. Yet, hope is a trickster. It seems so innocent, even sweet. Hope coaxes us into a sense of anticipation and expectation that everything will just work out. And sometimes it does. But what if it doesn’t? Then it’s evil twin, Hopeless, barges in and sets up shop.
2016 was by far one of the most controversial and perplexing 12 months many of us have ever experienced. It served as a living demonstration of the dichotomy between the hopeful and the hopeless, with a pretty even divide among our nation, community and families. Many are approaching 2017 with extreme caution and trepidation, while others are approaching with bold confidence and renewed vigor. And we have to ask ourselves, how did we get here?
It’s a simple question but certainly not an easy one. I believe the refrain of that Talking Heads song contains part of an answer: “Letting the days go by.” How often have we let an opportunity to have a real conversation go by? I mean the uncomfortable conversation – the one with the family member who tells off-color jokes. Or the friend who posts a rant on social media stereotyping and judging all of “those” people?
How about that conversation you had in your head when you passed by that homeless person, or the African American, the overweight teenager, the millennial with the tattoos and the piercings, the Native American, the older person driving the Jag, the camo-clad driver of the pickup, the people at the bus stop, the protesters in front of the State Theatre? What story do you tell yourself? Do you look the other way? Did you hope they didn’t notice?
Chances are you consciously, or more likely unconsciously, created a relationship with each individual by filling in the blanks and now have an entire narrative about who that person is, what they believe, their life experiences and how they got here. Is it true? You’ll never know for sure. Somewhere along the line we stopped being curious. We stopped listening to each other and started professing our opinion as if it were truth. We stopped recognizing that we are in a relationship with each other, our co-workers, our neighbors, our employer and our government. And, relationships, well…they are hard. They take work. Even the good ones.
Relationships change, just as your co-workers, neighbors and elected officials change.
Sometimes you didn’t pick ‘em. But now you gotta figure it out. Every relationship requires negotiation and compromise. We seem to have forgotten that. Negotiation is a process, not a final declaration or a temper tantrum. It is an ongoing dialogue and discussion to reach an outcome that serves all. If it stops working, you go back in until it does. It will require compromise on both sides.
Our relationship with 2017 and all it will bring is just beginning. Since we put ourselves in this giant social and political experiment, we will be best served to embrace it as an opportunity to face our own prejudices and begin having the uncomfortable conversations with a willingness to listen, learn and understand. If instead we choose to continue with the “same as it ever was, same as it ever was,” just like those resolutions, we are bound to fail. We will be left with only the hope that things will get better. And, they won’t. They can’t. Because we didn’t get better.
Bonnie Alfonso is president of Alfie Logo Gear in Traverse City. Bonnie serves as the chair of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce and on the Legislative Action Committee of the Small Business Association of Michigan.