We are coming to the end of the year, a time when we celebrate with family and friends and give thanks for all of the wonderful blessings that we have. We also will look back at the year that is now concluding and identify the highlights and lowlights, the successes and failures, and the seized opportunities and missed opportunities. And we will look to the New Year as a new beginning, a chance to right some wrongs, and a clean slate on which we can paint anew. You may not actually make New Year’s resolutions, but we all in some manner or other take stock of the past year and assert a desire to make a change.
At the beginning of the year I made a decision that I needed to read more. Not that I need to read more books, per se, but I needed to read better books, to broaden my own horizons. We have talked about it frequently throughout the past year and I stayed with my commitment to read more classics, to try to ascertain why certain books are taught in the schools and what about them has allowed them to stand the test of time. In a few weeks I will give you my top 10 list for the year in reading and I will include a list of those classics that I read as well. But the book I am reading right now had a passage which resonated with me and that I wanted to share with you, especially given the fact that the year is coming to an end and 2013 is a blank slate.
The book is called “Babbitt” and was written in 1922 by Sinclair Lewis. Lewis a few years later won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Arrowsmith” and was known for portraying through his writings his criticisms of American society and capitalism. “Babbitt” is no exception, focusing on the life and times of the average middle-class American man, focused more on success and stature than on a life of substance. A real estate broker (insistent that he be called a “realtor,” as if that held more special cache), he struggles with his concept of the American dream and not only his place in it, but how others view him in it.
With that in mind, here is the passage I wanted to share with you:
“Look here, old Paul, you do a lot of talking
about kicking things in the face, but you never kick.
Why don’t you?”
We all get complacent and lazy, each and every one of us. We look at the beginning of the New Year as a chance to start fresh, but in all fairness, how many of us actually get off our duff and do something? It is far easier to sit and complain, opine as to how things can get better, or actually come out and make predictions about how things will be better, but do we take that step? In many instances no.
Two things about the passage I shared with you are interesting and significant. First is the fact that the main character is the one asking the question. I know you may not have read the book before, but from what I told you, you can see that there is nothing particularly dramatic or trailblazing about him. He is content living in his own world and not making waves so long as he rises in the esteem of others. But inside he is constantly making promises and commitments to himself that he doesn’t keep. He says he will stop smoking, but always says that one more won’t hurt. He says he needs to exercise more and will walk to lunch, but decides to drive to lunch just this one last time.
And yet he is the one asking the question of his friend, Paul. It is clearly a call for help from Babbitt who, for some reason or another, cannot seem to get out of his own way to make a change in his own life. The passage struck me merely because it felt like the pot calling the kettle black. We all give advice to others, but when do we actually take that advice? Do as I say, not as I do…
The second thing that struck me about the passage was the response: “Nobody does. Habit too strong.” Now isn’t that the truth??
2012 is coming to a close and 2013 is wide open. Now is the chance to kick things in the face.