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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Saturday, December 31, 2005

A New Year's Resolution For You And Me

With each December that passes, I may or may not make a New Year's resolution. I couldn't even tell you if I made one a year ago; if I did, I didn't write it down, and I probably haven't stayed faithful to it. The truth about New Year's resolutions is that they are rarely adhered to. You may be feeling ten pounds overweight in the middle of winter after a holiday season of eating and not exercising; I may be disappointed in my own inability to meet a girl whom I actually like. And we may both decide to do something about it, but we both know that simply by declaring a future change on December 31, nothing is accomplished in reality.

This is no great failing on either of our parts. Self-motivation is almost always poor motivation. We only have ourselves to answer to when we fall short of our own expectations, and we easily forgive ourselves. We do it so regularly we don't even notice. Think about the last time you rationalized doing something you told yourself you wouldn't do. There's a girl who lives in my building who I think is beautiful, but I've never talked to her, because every time I've seen her, one of us is in a rush. So the first time I introduce myself waits until the next time I see her, and then until the time after that. Maybe you wanted a slice of pie for dessert and you justified it because you'd run an extra mile the next time you were on the treadmill - but you never even made it to the treadmill because you had to get your holiday shopping done or you were studying for finals. And you know what? It's all good. We all do it, and the world is no worse off because you had a slice of pie or I didn't smile and say "Hi" to a girl.

So as 2006 nears, why make another resolution like that - one we know we won't keep, and one we're likely to forget by 2007? There has to be something out of which we can't merely justify our way. Over the last week, I've tried to give some thought about a resolution that might have some meaning, and I came up with only simple thoughts. They won't change the world. They might not even change my life - but I hope they will.

Be nice to other people. I think I'm a pretty nice guy already - to my knowledge, nobody hates me, at least - and I don't mean this resolution in the sense that I'll be dropping twenties in the cups of the homeless people in Westwood or even that I'll stop ranting in my car when someone's in front of me with their blinker on doing ten miles an hour below the speed limit. I mean it in the sense that I'm going to look up at the cashier when I'm at the supermarket and smile and say, with absolute sincerity, "Thanks. Have a good evening."

How many times am I really so hurried that I can't be troubled to say something nice? Four, five times a year? And even then, how rushed could I possibly be that I can't even smile at people as I move past them? I'm not.

I think I first realized how much I neglect to even say "Thank you" or "Hello" when I was in France this summer. When you go to a French establishment, the cashiers (or waiters, etc.) expect you to greet them politely and thank them. I even heard that one person in my class was refused service because he hadn't said "Bonjour" when he went to pay for something at a convenience store. Now, perhaps the French's insistence on such formalities borders on arrogance, and it seemed to me that the formalities between Frenchmen had become a mindless conversation in most cases anyway. But to me - the American who hadn't given it much thought before - it seemed like something that has been missing from my life.

People - myself included - have become absolutely conditioned to go through the motions of politeness. When my dad picked me up from the airport five days ago, we drove out of the short-term parking lot, and as we pulled up to the booth to pay, the cashier was in a heated argument with someone about some kind of labor issue. The cashier didn't even look at us as she collected the money; as she gave us change, my dad said, "Happy holidays." Without even looking at us, she snapped, "Happy holidays" in return. Purely reflexive - so much so that my dad and I started laughing hysterically at how ridiculous it was.

But let's think about this - what if, as she heard my dad say "Happy holidays," she had been somehow jolted from her rant? What if she had paused for a split second, turned and looked at us, smiled, and had genuinely wished us the same? I think she would have felt her anger soothed, at least somewhat.

That's the power of sincere kindness. It isn't just for the person at whom you're smiling - it makes you feel good for having shared a positive moment. Which brings me to my other resolution:

Take care of yourself first. I'm going to be honest with myself. Altruism is almost always a fallacy. Maybe I'm cynical, but I think that when most people do something good for someone else, they are deriving some benefit - even if it's only a good feeling about themselves or the ability to say they did something good for someone else. That's not a bad thing - even a small motivation like that can spawn a lot of good deeds in this world.

So when I say that I'm going to take care of myself first, it doesn't mean that I'll turn myself into someone to despise. It means that I'm going to make myself happy - and I deserve that much. I'm not going to call that girl with whom I don't enjoy spending time just because I feel like I'm supposed to, because I'm going to be happier if I don't have to deal with her. And I think it's important to realize that it's a lot better for her, because if she's not making me happy, then it's a waste of time for her, too.

I'm going to work as hard as I can in hockey practice because I'm happy when I can be proud of how I play, I'm happy when I can help the team, and I'll be elated if we win the Crosstown Cup and the Pac-8. If I find that summer job where I think I'll be happy, then I'm going for that. And I will smile when I go through the checkout line at Ralph's, because I feel good when I do.

Don't cut at your own enjoyment of life because you feel some sort of pressure to make someone else happy. That's how people end up miserable - in dead-end jobs, in loveless relationships. Everyone deserves happiness, and in the end, nobody can rely on someone else to make it happen. It has to come from yourself.

So I hope that's what 2006 holds for me. Be nice, be happy. It sounds simple enough to handle.

And maybe I'll introduce myself to that girl in my building. But I'm not resolving to.

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