New Year's resolutions often deal with treating people better, making new friends, and paying off debts. (Again from PT): "The Babylonians would return borrowed objects. Jews seek, and offer, forgiveness. The Scots go 'first footing,' visiting neighbors to wish them well. How does all this social 'resolving' connect to survival? Simple. We are social animals. We have evolved to depend on others, literally, for our health and safety."
What a perfect holiday for the age of social networking.
Thanks to TV, we are quite used to being at least passive participants in everything important that happens anywhere. National championships, historic moments, regional wars, train wrecks, plane crashes, republican presidential debates: not only are you there, you're there as a full-fledged, fellow member of the human community, shoulder to shoulder with all your BFFs and neighbors and everyone you know and don't know.
Walter Winchell, a pioneer in facilitating viral communal participation in the world's noteworthy moments, used to open his broadcasts with this catchphrase salutation: "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea"
The way Winchell saw it was: whatever it was, HE was there to tell you about it. But now we see with our eyes and not our ears. With live transmitted pictures instead of someone else's transmitted words. And we draw our own conclusions, admittedly often wrong. But it's personal.
And in this digital age we can even talk to each other about it in real time with skypes, texts, posts, selfies, instagrams and tweets. In classic 21st century social networking form: you're talking to them about it, but it's still all about you.
PT notes that Jews pray that they will be inscribed in "the Book of Life" for one more year. And it takes note of the myriad good luck rituals integral to New Year practices people engage in hoping to stack fortune's deck to their favor.
"The Dutch, for whom the circle is a symbol of success, eat donuts. Greeks bake special Vassilopitta [sic] cake with a coin inside, bestowing good luck in the coming year on whoever finds it in his or her slice. Fireworks on New Year's Eve started in China millennia ago as a way to chase off evil spirits. ... In a New Year's ritual for many cultures, houses are scrubbed to sweep out the bad vibes and make room for better ones."
PT concludes triumphantly, "So, how do you reassure yourself against the scariest thing the future holds, the only sure thing that lies ahead, the inescapable reality that you will someday die? Pass the donuts, the Vassilopitta and the grapes, light the fireworks, and raise a glass to toast: 'To survival!'"
Maybe in the soaring tradition of overreaching and grandiose aspirational thinking, that seems to be setting the bar a bit low. But maybe, in the end, there's nothing more important you could wish for. If you're just given enough time, maybe you can accomplish on your own all those other things you had planned for your life.
Here's to health, happiness and, why not?, continued survival to you and your loved ones in the coming year! What in the great scheme of things could make 2016 happier?