It is the New Year, when we celebrate the passage of time, acknowledging what was in the past year and what will be in the coming one. We often consider it a time for resolutions, for “turning over a new leaf”. We commit to exercising more, eating less, reading more, spending more time with family. We talk about making a change as if we are ending one thing and starting something new. But is this really the way lasting transformation happens?
In making personal changes, it isn’t actually about a single resolution and a switch in behavior. In fact, the book Switch tells us that to create change, we must engage in three distinct sets of activities. First, we must “direct the rider”, which means providing logical reasoning for and steps toward the change. Second, we must “motivate the elephant”, which means connecting with the emotions of the change process. Third, we must “shape the path”, which means creating an environment that is conducive to the change. When I wanted to start running again after a 20-year gap, I had to develop a plan for how to implement. (When would I run? If in the morning, how early would I get up?) I had to motivate my emotional self. (How would I feel after running each day? How would I feel after developing a sustained practice?) And I had to make my environment conducive to this change. (Where would I put my clothes to make it easy to get out of the door?)
If these relatively small shifts in our personal lives take this kind of planning and emotional reflection, how much more is this the case for big societal changes? We can not simply change the trajectory of carbon dioxide’s increase in our atmosphere through a New Year’s resolution. We cannot change the experiences of Black men who have been incarcerated due to punitive drug laws through a New Year’s resolution. We can not improve the classroom experiences for Black and Brown students with a New Year’s resolution. Things have happened, and there is a reckoning to be had. There is a process to change. We need a sustained emotional relationship with these dilemmas and what transformation will look like. We need plans for moving from here to there. And we need to create the intellectual, emotional, and moral environments that will make transformation possible.
The word “resolution” comes from the Latin for “loosen” or “release”, while the word “revolution” comes from the Latin, through Middle English, for “turn around”. It seems to me that a resolution — releasing our adherence to old ways of being and doing things — could be a first step toward revolution, turning around towards new ways of living. So in this New Year, let’s allow our resolutions to initiate revolution — true transformation in our personal, societal, and political lives. And allow these initial steps can build a new relationship with change so that we can commit to a sustained process of transformation.
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