Does Your New Year’s Resolution Pass The Swimming Donkey Test?

2018 is barreling down the tracks at us full speed now. Bearing with it freight loads of recommendations for resolutions, no-resolution strategies and behavior modifications for a kinder, happier, healthier, wiser, wealthier, whateverer year.

A donkey owner, scepter in hand, leads his two steeds with long ears like a roman emperor. One carries a load of sponges and walks like a racehorse. The other, praying for strength at every step, carries, as they say, a ton of bricks. His load is salt. Over hill and dale, our vigorous pilgrims travel their route until they reach a river crossing, which stops them in their tracks.

The donkey owner, who crosses at the spot every day, mounts the donkey carrying the sponges and chases the other beast in front of him; who, being stubborn and not wanting to follow direction, immediately falls into a hole. Under the water the donkey goes. Then he escapes, because after a couple of strokes all the salt dissolves so well that the donkey feels nothing on his relieved shoulders anymore.

Comrade Sponge took this example upon himself, like a sheep follows the herd. Here’s my donkey plunging in the water up to the neck—him, his rider and the sponges. All three drink their fill, but as much as the master and the donkey drink, the sponges have them beat. They become so heavy, so filled with water, that the donkey succumbs and can’t reach the bank. The donkey master hangs on tight, waiting only for his prompt and certain death. Someone comes to the rescue. Too late.

No matter.

It’s enough that we’ve seen that we should not all act in the same way.

That’s the point I wanted to make.

One resolution will not fit all. And, in fact, if we let some external master decide for us, the outcome may not be good at all. After all, a resolution that looks as easy as carrying dry sponges, might take on water by March. And a resolution that seems like a heavy load of salt may in fact prove lighter as the months pass. Plus, egos and agendas drive impatient masters. I have the best advice. Buy my book. Buy my magic potions. Subscribe to me for the low price of.

Not a big resolutionista, instead, I try to modify as I go along, determine what feels right for me, depending on whether the decision feels sponge-y or salty. Not eating octopus, for example: After reading several articles (a selection from The Guardian, The Atlantic and The New Yorker) detailing the level of that creature’s intelligence, I couldn’t align my reasoning for not eating red meat and poultry with continuing to eat octopus (I won’t eat anything I wouldn’t be quite willing to kill myself). For me the obvious step was to stop eating octopus, right then and there, not waiting for a magic date.

To be clear, I do not presume to recommend the same to you. Others think that the very intelligence of the animal is the reason to eat it. I am saying that each of us is responsible for making thoughtful choices all year about how we live.

And now for the contradictory part of human nature: it’s hard for me to avoid the temptation of January 1st’s new beginning-ness. It’s like smelling the pages of a new book. So a couple of years ago I decided to find something to try on for the year—a not huge yet at the same time stretch goal, a challenge more than a resolution, something that offered me insight into myself.

2015: my year of meditation, although to be transparent, I already had a meditation practice, I just set a goal of 100 consecutive days during the year. 2016: my year of fasting once a month. 2017: my year of ending every shower with the tap turned to full cold.

2018 will be my year of … ?

I’d been pondering this question for a couple of weeks, when last week a link to this op-ed by Ann Patchett, a writer I greatly admire, landed in my inbox via the New York Times daily digest, which I subscribe to. At first it felt like the universe had answered my question. I love clothes, shoes even more. But I know that I spend too much and too much time acquiring them, never mind the focus on personal packaging and the environmental issues. Then as I thought about the idea of not shopping for a year, it started to scare the crap out of me. This is a bit more of a commitment than 7 seconds of cold water every day, maybe in a good way. What happens when I get to the middle of the river? Will I find myself with salt or sponges?

Also, I wasn’t going to tell anyone if I took up the challenge, because I don't want to come off as trying to be noble. I’m not. I’m investigating my own participation in the consumer economy. I’m doing me. You do you, which is necessarily different. But now I’m telling you, because I also know that a goal shared, is one more likely to be met. If I even do it.

No decision yet. It’s been almost two weeks and I still haven’t closed the browser tab open on the op-ed. I’m not looking for mission impossible. I’m open to suggestions.

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