Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor's column appears every Saturday in our weekend edition.

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions last weekend? When I broached that subject informally, a group of friends more or less agreed — they don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Mostly because they knew they’d break those resolutions. Maybe even that same evening, if the resolution required “Give up chocolate!” or “Never tell little white lies.”

Or else they knew their good intentions were too idealistic to achieve: “Peace to the world.” “End poverty and starvation.” “Cure the climate crisis.”

I share those misgivings. But I also feel it’s worthwhile to make resolutions, periodically. And a New Year seems as good a time as any to make them.

It is, after all, the start of something new on the calendar.

You have probably attended meetings where formal motions always took the form of “Whereas… Therefore be it resolved that…”

The “whereas” part establishes the facts; the “therefore” part defines what the organization will do about them.

That’s a resolution. And we make them often, not just when an old year changes to a New Year. They’re a decision, an agreement, to do things differently from now on.

These decisions are rarely earth-shaking. How much, after all, can a local committee do to achieve peace in war-torn Ukraine? But it can do something locally to help bewildered Ukrainian refugees arriving in a strange land. It can’t cure global warming, but it can make rules for recycling.

Maybe you never connected the motions voted on at community gatherings with your New Year’s Resolutions?

Most organizations pass dozens of those resolutions every year, without hesitating because they might not be able to keep them.

So why not make some New Year resolutions?

I made a one, at some point during Donald Trump’s presidency. I resolved to quit using superlatives in my writing.

What’s a superlative? It’s the third level of comparisons.

A straight comparison involves two identifiable things. Or ideas. Or results. This is better than that. Or worse. But you always know, you have to know, what you’re comparing with what. You can’t compare apples to oranges. Or fish to freight trains.

Not so with superlatives. Because they are superior to anything else. They are the best, the biggest, the loudest, the softest, the weakest, the fastest, the smartest …

Trump was addicted to superlatives. He was the “best president …” A crisis had to be “the worst we have ever faced.” Any Trump rally was “the greatest…” His opponents were “the most crooked…”

I never heard Trump do a simple comparison, a clear choice between two alternatives. He always went for the superlative.

As a writer, I can accept that superlatives are sometimes necessary. You may have to identify the best vaccine or treatment out of a group of five, say. Or vote for the most trustworthy politician out of a slate of candidates. But in such cases, the range is clearly defined.

I cannot accept that any politician or accountant is the best of all time. Or that someone is the greatest actress. I want to know who they’re being compared with.

When Brazil’s Pele died, some glowing tributes called him the greatest athlete ever. In soccer, maybe. But hardly in javelin throwing. Or ballet. Or swimming.

I think of these as unattached superlatives. Like frisbees, they fly through the air with the greatest of ease… and become meaningless.

I felt so offended by Trump’s flying superlatives that I resolved not to use them myself. And so far, I believe, I have kept that resolution.

So what change could you introduce in your life that would make you more honest, more compassionate, more sensitive?

Notice, I said “more,” not “most.” You don’t have to be the best at whatever you decide to do — just better.

So here’s my advice — choose something small. Choose something only you will notice. If no one else notices my avoidance of superlatives, so what? I notice. And I feel better about not shooting from the hip.

Here’s another suggestion.

Write your resolution down. Post it on your refrigerator. Put a tick on the paper, every time you have lived up to your resolution. Don’t quit just because you fail occasionally.

One day, you’ll realize you haven’t had to add a checkmark for some time. Because your new resolution has become a habit. You don’t have to think about anymore.

It starts with having good intentions. It ends with a new you.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca