We got a new electronic game for Christmas; so I summoned all my engineering know-how and went to work installing the batteries. The instructions warned me not to mix new batteries with old. Tell me – if we can’t even mix new batteries with old ones how come every year they give us a large set of new days (365!), but we have to mix them in with the same old us? Sounds like trouble to me.

The nice thing, of course, is that you’re not yet as used up as an old battery. Even better, you may be old (a very relative term), but unlike old batteries you are still somewhat adjustable.

New Year’s is the time we talk about doing some adjusting. Usually we pick something unpleasant, unhealthy, or otherwise negative to work on; and often we are frustrated in the effort. Let’s look at it from the other direction. How about pinning down some pleasant, healthy, or otherwise beneficial aspect of our personalities or activities and give that a little reinforcement for the months to come?

Suppose you were going to send in to this paper, SNN, a 1- or 2-sentence summary of something good that you did this year. What would you pick? Let the action be pointed out for its own sake, without your name attached; but you yourself will thus be reminded – and that’s what I’m after.

Let me suggest a few areas where we might have something to report, or to remember and try to do again.

Tongue-biting. Abe Lincoln wanted us to move on “with malice toward none.” There is a lot of malicious talk around today – especially on radio and TV. But it’s also in our homes, schools, and workplaces. Did you bite your tongue now and then this year? Then there is much less social acid sloshing around where you live. That’s a good thing. Don’t hurt your arm, but a little pat on your own back is not inappropriate. And if we actually spoke up in a way opposite from malice – well, another pat. Hey, these are good things! If they show up some more in 2003, all the better.

Mary Pipher says, “A great deal of the social sickness in America comes from … age segregation.” “A great deal of the social sickness”! Did you cross one of those socially acceptable barriers to be present with, seeing and hearing and understanding, someone older or younger? It can be embarrassing, but also fun. If Pipher is right, that’s an important contribution to social healing for America! Wow. Then go do it. Was there an example of that for you in 2002? That’s good. Notice it. Tell yourself it’s valuable. Then do it again this year. We’re picking up good things and amplifying them by giving them attention. We’re helping to heal our culture!

“Any old dead fish can float downstream,” as my Dad often said. Our American values and way of life do a lot of good for us, and we could appreciate that more than we do. But as a culture we also have some bad patterns going, aspects of life in which we’d be smart to swim against the flow. So, is there a pat- yourself-on-the-back incident from 2002 where you chose to swim the “wrong way,” regardless of the guff you took or how uncool you seemed? Or did you encourage someone else when they were scraping together the courage to do the same? Notice it. That’s a habit worth developing further.

New year – same old people – but maybe not quite. We’re still us, but we can be adjusting ourselves, and thus the culture we live in, by noticing and approving of good things we do, and then repeating them in the new days to come.

by Larry Harvey, published in Southwest Nebraska News, January 3, 2003