Brad Hirschfield Live: New Year's resolutions: What are your hopes and aspirations -- for yourself and for the nation -- for 2013?

Dec 28, 2012

Most New Year's resolutions are broken within weeks of being made, but that doesn't mean that they are unimportant, or that we can't improve our odds of keeping them.

What are your resolutions for the year ahead?

What should they be for us as a nation?

How can we improve on our ability to turn today's resolve into tomorrow's reality?

Brad Hirschfield will live chat with readers at 1 p.m. ET about this topic.

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As the end of 2012 rapidly approaches, and we look toward 2013, hundreds of millions of us will make New Years Resolutions.  Do they really matter?  I think that they do -- both the personal ones and the more global ones. 


I hope that you will share your resolutions, or why you choose not to make any, and join me as we think together about how we can learn from the resolutions that we make, and maybe even how to keep them a little more successfully.


Let's get started!

For me, all of my hopes for the new year come down to a single, deceptively simple word: Peace. I find that making peace with myself is often harder than forgiving someone who harms me. And I believe that peace with oneself is a necessary step before one can be truly at peace with the world.

Yours is a hope which is as common as it is profound.  And I think that your labeling it "deceptively simple" is truly wise.

The deceptive piece for me lies not only in the simplicity of the word, but in the way that we often deceive ourselves when it comes to making peace -- be it with ourselves, other individuals, or even between nations.  The fact is, that most of us want peace AND a bunch of other things too. 


We want peace, but we typically want it on our own terms.  That's not necessarily bad, and I am no fan of "peace at any cost", but it means that the path to peace probably begins with a careful assessment of all of the the things that we really want and what we are willing to rethink in order to bring the peace we all claim to long for.


Perhaps that is what you meant about both the difficulty and the necessity of making peace with ourselves before we can make real peace with others.

I hope Congress resolves to do its job and get it done before any deadline or fiscal cliff happens. If they can't keep the government running, then they should submit their resignation and let someone else who can take over.

I share your hopes, and the deep frustrations which accompany them.  I am not sure however, that mass resignation is the way to go, even as a fantasy.  My concern is that were we to "throw the bums out", we would get more of the same bums.  Why, because more than the politicians need to change, the eletorate needs to change.


We put these men and women into power, and while their behavior is poor at best, and reprhensible in many cases, they are reflecting the mood and will of those who elected them.  That doesn't mean that they get a pass, but it means that we should not either.


When politicians fear that failure to make a deal will endanger their carreers more than making a deal which violates some ideologocal orthodoxy, then they will make deals.  You can take that to the bank, and that is something within our power as voters.  Something about which to think in the year ahead.

Last night at about 10 or 1030 as I awaited the R train at Pacific St station in Brooklyn, a distraught woman sat down at the edge of the subway tracks trying to climb down to kill herself. Another woman, a complete stranger to her, pulled her away and comforted her and hugged her. The woman cried saying no one cared, and the other woman said she did. "I'm here, I care, and you don't eve know me." I heard her say. It was the most moving thing I've ever seen and the best single act I've ever witnessed another human being do for a stranger in my entire life. I wanted to tell her this, but was sure I couldn't do so without blubbering. The hero then quietly got on the R train then got off one stop later at Union without any fanfare. No one even thanked her. I hope I can find her so I can tell her that she has inspired me to be a better human being.

Wow, what a story.  Thank you for sharing it.  And for what it's worth, my guess is that by dedicating yourself to living a better and more humane life, you will be thanking that stranger, who clearly wasn't looking for any acknowledgement anyway.  Paying it forward, so to speak, is a powerful form of thanks.


Lonliness is a terbbile things, and to the extent that each of us can learn from you, and from the story you shared, we could all make a real difference in the world in 2013.  No, none of us may make the headlines for having done so, but if a signigicant number of people actually felt more connected and cared for, does any of us doubt that the world would be better place for all of us?


That's thewonderful  irony of caring for others -- it is among the most "selfish" things we can do.  It measurably alleviates our own suffering, raising our level of happiness, and makes the world a more habitable place for all, including us.


Thanks again for the story.

While on one level, you can successfully argue that most people want the same thing, to live a good life with their family. But, each year, there seems to be another major issue the divides people. Years ago, it was abortion: pro life vs pro choice. The past few years, another issue, gay marriage was added into the mix. With the recent killings, gun control has once again become a real topic. How can we come together on the things we agree upon if we are separated by equally major issues?

Great question, and one to which I devoted a large portion of my book, You Don't Have To Be Wrong for Me To Be Right.  My quick response here boils down to two issues.


1) Don't confuse principles with practices.  The fact that we are divided in our responses on matters of policy should not distract us from the shared motivations which many people have.  For example, in the recently renewed guncontrol debate, both side actually want people to be safer and more secure.  If we insisted that remain the frame for all subsequent policy debate, we would still find ourselves with real differenes, but also find ourselves a whole lot more able to work through many of them.


2)  Accept the fact that people with whom we disagree are not necessarily bad or stupid or liars, as they are often portrayed.  We can disagree without denigrating, and we can presume the best even about almost, if not all, all of those with whom we disagree most.  It's amazing how doing so surfaces new possibilities and solutions.


To be clear, neither of the above two steps will solve everything, but they will make things much better.  Try it and see.

Since nothing good has happened in my 62 years I have no hope that next year will bring anything but more pain. This country is more divided that it has ever been. I think the best thing is if the red and blue states formed two different countries.

Nothing good has happened in your 62 years?  I don't think that you are making that up, but it's hard for me to believe that it is so.  Even those who have suffered unspeakably, can typically identify those parts of their lives which are good.  That doesn't dilute the truly hellish things they, and perhaps you, have endured, but it suggests that at least part of the challenge you face lies in being able to see only the bad.  That is typically a clinical problem, and one for which I hope you get some help.


Yo look ahead and see nothing but pain, is a challenge beyond the scope of this conversation, but there are people who can and will help you.  Pick up the phone and call a mental health help line, go to a church or synagogue and speak to the clergy about a referral for free counseling, etc.  There is help out there and I hope, for the sake of your own happiness, that you seek it out.

I have never succeeded in any of my resolutions. Therefore I stopped making them a few years ago and no longer feel all that guilt/failure. I just try to take a hard look at myself throughout the year and see if I can do better.

Sounds like you are committed to resolutions and to resolve in a pretty serious way!


I actually would not hesitate to keep making those resolutions, but I would let go of the guilt and failure you described about not keeping them.  There is a serious role for the aspirational in our lives.  By definition, most of that to which we aspire -- if we are really aiming high. will not come true.  But if we give up aspiring, then almost nothing will ever happen.  So perhaps the key is to keep aspiring, but to give yourself a bit of a break.

Yes and then the woman left the distraught person. If you are going to stop someone from killing themselves you should be responsible for that person. The suicidal person is no better off today than yesterday.

I felt some of those same things as I read the story, and then I rethought it.


Why does a moment of care and concern demand or obligate one beyond that moment?  How do we know that the suicidal person is "no better off today than yesterday"?  How can we know about the longer term benefits of that moment of compassion?  We can't, and we should be careful about presuming that we do.


Don't get me wrong, suicidal ideation is a real clinical problem, and a hug on a train platform is not likely to cure it.  But it may have been just enough to see that person through a oment of intense pain, and have reasured her about the value of her life, just enough to seek and get the help she probably needs.


We need to be careful about the promises we make to others.  About that, you and I agree.  But we also need to be bold about the compassion we show in any given moment because, who knows, that might be all there is for any of us, not to mention that it may be just enough to make all of the differnce in the world.

I don't believe in New Years Resolutions. You focus on them for a couple weeks then forget about them, they're useless. Also, people come up with unrealistic resolutions (I'm going to lose 100 pounds!), which make them even harder to achieve. I think people should be setting smaller realistic goals for themselves and figuring out how to achieve them on a regular basis, not just once a year.

I think that you made a great case for continuing to make New Years Resolutions -- ones that are attainable, or at least more likely to be attained.  Sounds like a good path to me.


Certainly, many of us have a tendency to let the grand and the perfect, get in the way of the practical and the good.  Big mistake.  I think that there can be a place for both, but your decision to focus on one over the other is certainly wise for many people.


Regularity is certainly key, but everything has to begin somewhere, and that is what a New Years Resolution can be -- an opportunity to take a small step in a positve direction.

I would love for the news media outlets to stop making any reference to a person's gender or race when talking about their accomplishments or misdeeds. Every time we focus on the fact that someone was the first ___ to do something, we only emphasize the fact that there is a difference between men and women; Caucasian, Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans; or Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhist. Can't we just celebrate the fact that the person did something great?

I hear you.  And I also hear the fact that there is difference between us -- that men are not just women with Y chromosomes, or that women are men who didn't develop properly, even though both were once well received theories of sex/gender difference.


What I think we need, is a way to acknowledge that we are people made who we are by the variety of differences and identities and particularities that shape us.  We need to learn that none of them is all of who we are, and that when any of them is singled out, they are never the whole picture of what makes us, us.

I resolve to compromise on at least one vote this year. I also agree that compromises naming a post office or those after a stock market crash don't count. Sincerely, John Boehner

You are being funny, but it's an opportunity to remind ourselves that if we really believe in compromise, then it is to those with whom we agree that we must seek it most.  Otherwise, we are not seeking compromise, but merely the conversion of those with whom we disagree.

I guess mine is to try to see the good intentions of people, rather than assuming the worst. Really, I think it just means taking a second to step back and think before reacting. When I have remembered to do that in the past, it at least makes me feel better, though it doesn't always get the result I wanted. That and losing a few pounds. Do you have any New Year's resolutions?

Can I double down on your?  I am not joking either.


As one who has battled my entire lifetime to stay at a healthy weight, I am committed to continuing that work in the year ahead.  The one thing of which I am certain, is that if I don't at least try, it will only get worse.  So trying, is actually a form of success.  I think that is true for many areas of our lives.


Your point about trying to presume the best about others intentions, even as we may continue to disagree about the course of action to follow, is HUGE.  No, it will not always get us the result we want, but it will make us both happier and more able to achieve a whole range of otherwise unanticipated solutions.


Of course, it's hard to do because it means making oursleves a little vulnerable.  To presume that there is difference not because the "other guy is bad", but because there are multiple possible responses to most challenges, demands that we re-examine our own conclusions in ways that can be uncomfortable.  My only response is that the pay off for the inital discomfort can be truly amazing.

I've never understood why people have to wait until New Year's to make a resolution. Unfortunately for me, I have too many flaws that can't wait until January to be fixed. And if I did have to pick one time of year to make a resolution, it would be during the Spring. I find that time of rebirth in nature is more inspiring to self improvement. It's very hard to get motivated in the bleak darkness of winter.

I think that is the whole point.  From the Christmas story to the Hanukkah story, to the practice of New Years Resolutions, we seek to afform the possibility of life and renewal at just the moment when we are most likely to give up on either.  That's great stuff.


And the fact that we all need work, all year round, does not mean that a shared practice which highlights that ongoing struggle needs to be discarded.  Finally, for what it's worth, you are probably far less flawed than you imagine.  The people to worry about are those who, unlike you, think that they have no flaws!

I'm the original poster of that story and find that response rather bizarre and pathetic. It's amazing how some people seek out the negativity in anything they find. What was the hero supposed to do, take over her life? She was clearly on her way home from a night of work. She might have had kids to go home to. And she did more than anyone else did. The hero also got on board the train with the woman and talked to her until she got off. Two officers had shown up and talked to them before we all got on the train - what were they supposed to do? They didn't even take their names. This woman reached out to help a stranger. And yes, the suicidal person is better off today. She is alive.

As you saw from my response, we agree.  But imagine now that your challenge to be more compassionate begins with the person who challenged your story.  How would you respond if you saw their rather harsh question as both genuine, not entirely misguided and in need of a serious respone? 


This is your "train paltform moemnt".  How will you use it?

Well the hour is at hand, and my hands are tired.  thank you for your comments and questions, and as always, don't forget that we can continue the conversation if your friend me on facebook or follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield.


I want to wish you all a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2013.


"Til Next Week.

Happy New Year!

In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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