Making New Year vows without the Iron will to follow them through
BY MULUGETA GUDETA
A new year is not about a new number. The fact that the Ethiopian calendar year 2012 is replaced with 2013 does not make the new year different from the previous one. What makes a new year really new is not the cyclic occurrence of natural phenomena like rains giving way to sunshine or cold leaving the place to warm weather. Flooding rivers might be emptied, and birds with different colors might appear in the sky. Flowers bloom and grass becomes deep green and thunder and lightning disappear from the firmament leaving the empty space to calm and serenity in the dry season.
Natural indicators of the dawning of a new year are familiar and we rejoice at their appearance even though they might have manifested themselves several times in our lives. In this sense new years are always new. We sometimes welcome them with a sense of foreboding. There are of course superstitious attitudes that go with a new year and its natural manifestations. In traditional Ethiopia, the appearance a particular bird on the 18th of the first month of the new year coincides with the blooming of the yellow Adey flower. This prompted the late veteran Ethiopian poet Mengistu Lemma to scribble a memorable couplet that goes like:
Maybe the bird of Meskel
and the blooming Adey flower
might have an appointment;
At the dawn of the first month of
The new year, Meskerem!
What is striking in these poetic lines is the personification of the Meskel bird and the Adey flower, that are portrayed as human beings, for only humans can fix an appointment. Mengistu's verses leave us wondering why the bird and the flower would like to meet in the first month of the Ethiopian year. It gives to the new month a sense of mystery and hope and extreme beauty as it is given a new life by a charming bird and a beautiful flower.
The late Mengistu Lemma was of course an exceptionally talented poet who could paint vivid pictures of Ethiopian lives with simple strokes of the pen. Anyway, this is not a piece about the poetry of one of the most talented Ethiopian bards, who passed away a long time ago leaving behind a legacy of immortal verses.
The new year in Ethiopia is not only about poetry and natural beauty. It is also about men and women making vows or resolutions to change their lives in a better direction, rectify their minuses and consolidating their pluses. New year resolutions are made in the silence of our mind or in public. There are many people who speak to the media about their new year resolutions, starting from quitting smoking and drinking alcohol to saving money and their health or writing new books. The problem is that some of these resolutions are made in the passion and enthusiasm of the moment that announces the dawn of a new year.
New year resolutions are not as easy to live up to as watching the Meskel bird or smelling the Adey flower. Resolutions are inside us and require our intervention in order to bear the fruits of change. Making new year resolutions is basically making a decision to change our lives. There are people who make dramatic gestures in order to show the depth of their determination to start life anew. A man who spent half of his adult life smoking cigarettes might be inspired to kick this bad habit in the new year.
So, on the eve of the new year, our man smokes his last cigarette and announces something like, "No more smoking in the new year!" and collects all this smoking paraphernalia, like his cigarette lighter or his fancy cigarette holder, his pipe, or his shisha apparatus, and breathes a sigh of relief waiting for the following day to shout in triumph, 'I did it, I have stopped smoking! Down with a twenty year old habit that ruined my life!" He spends a smokeless first day of the new year entertaining the post-addictions syndromes with frequent yawns, red eyes, a dry mouth and a depressed mood. These feelings might persist for an entire week and on the first day of the second week, our imaginary guy might find his new life without smoking quite unbearable if not meaningless.
Thus, in a furious drive or demonic urge, his old habit rears its head and sends him to the nears shop where he snatches a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches and lights one there and then, ending his glorious week without smoking, which he considers the biggest mistake of his life. I remember an old cigarette advertisement scribbled on the packs in vivid letters saying, "Why smoke if you don't enjoy it?". This is of course in the old times when smoking was chic and not recognized as a public health hazard and. Such subtle advertisements were subsequently banned once smoking was understood as self-poisoning.
The same goes with other new year resolutions. They come with a bang and disappear without a whisper like the old smoker in the above example. The new resolutions might last a few weeks or a couple of months before they disappear into thin air. They are quickly forgotten and we becoming quickly nostalgic of our bad old habits and sink back into them.
Shedding some weight might be a good idea in view of its health benefits. Yet, shedding a few pounds off our bulk is not an easy matter. It requires a huge reserve of determination to carry on with the resolution and follow it to the end, until our physical appearance turns from one of a sack of flour to that of an hourglass.
All new year resolutions, big or small, require an iron will to execute them or to follow them through. Unfortunately most of us are not born with big guts and iron wills and we succumb to our bad habits the moment we encounter the first hurdles. I took smoking as an example in order to illustrate the struggles involved in kicking the habit because it is one of the toughest challenges on the list of new year resolutions.
I am not a psychologist but I think that the reason why so many new year resolutions fizzle out is that they are often made without serious thought. Some people sometimes vow to get married in the new year without giving due attention to the intricacies of weddings. Marrying your dream girl is not like going to the nearby store to buy a beautiful doll. The doll might cost you money but marrying a girl these days might be a nightmare or a game of luck. Many factors are involved here. Economy is one, true love is another. I may turn the old advertisement on cigarette pack to say, "Why marry a girl if you have not enough money, or a heart that beats for your wife every minute of your wedded life?".
Governments too are sometimes prone to making new year vows. They make resolutions to bring down the rate of inflation, and help grow the economy in general. During the time of the military regime back in the 1980s, it was the habit of the officials to make grandiose declarations for new years. "We shall gather record harvests! We shall make famine history! We shall give our children the best education on earth!" etc. The sycophants around them and some members of the public clap their hands in fear or false appreciation and repeat the slogans that promise so many big things every new year coming.
At the end of the day, it is sad to realize that most, if not all the big promises for the new year evaporated or disappeared like the morning dew even before the sun shines in the new year. This was because the promises and resolutions were made without adequate information about the input-output ratios that could make the economic promises more realistic. The officials vow to score higher productivity and output without giving due attention to the ratios between these two factors and what inputs it takes to improve productivity and get higher outputs. You only reap what you plant.
That was of course the time of economic planning and central control and those who make the fantastic announcements were not accountable to the public. They make grand declarations simply to show their support to the regime or prove their solidarity with the ruling party or with its "maximum leader".
Individual resolutions have less serious impacts than those made by governments. The first may hurt or disappoint individuals, the second ones hurt an entire people and a country. If you say that you are going to eliminate unemployment next year, no one is going to believe you except the lunatic fringe in society, simply because unemployment cannot be eliminated at any time.
It can be reduced but not eliminated. So making new year vows both by individuals and governments is a tough bargain because there is what we call accountability in both cases. Individuals are accountable to their consciences when they make erroneous new year resolutions and governments are accountable to the public whenever they make grandiose declarations on new year eves. Besides determination and a strong will to execute their resolutions, both need to be honest to themselves or to the public without which new year vows would only be annual rituals without substance or a practice in deception or self-deception.