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Be it resolved: it’s the politicians who need to do better

Here we are on the brink of a new year, typically a time of renewal … at least in theory. Do you have any resolutions?

What is it about a new calendar year that makes us eager to reinvent ourselves, if only a little bit? The coming of a new year is seen as a fresh start and a time for deciding what needs to be changed and where to go next. It’s for these reasons that so many people make New Year’s resolutions to accomplish things such as to exercise more, quit smoking, pay off debt, save more money, complete projects, get organized, further education, lose weight, and the like.

Perhaps there’s an endless optimism that we can change, that we can be better – which, of course, recognizes that we all have something in our lives that we wish to alter. Psychologists tell us this is normal human behaviour, adding that the tough part is actually following through on the impulse for self improvement. In other words, fantasizing about a better you, about an idealized version of you – most of us can actually picture ourselves that way – will remain just that: a fantasy. Unless, that is, we are willing to work hard to make the dream a reality.

As individuals, we’ve been performing this ritual for centuries – for some of us, resolving to do the same thing, such as exercise more, is indeed a yearly ritual, but that’s another story. Can this sense of renewal be extended to a wider venue – say, to a community as a whole? We go into 2010 with a feeling that the worst of the recession is behind us. And, as has been the case for most of the past few years, with the chance we’ll face another federal election, a daunting prospect for Stephen Harper who went from soaring in the polls to mishandling the Afghan detainee issue, tarnishing Canada’s image in Copenhagen and continuing to misread the economy.

Perhaps a new government will provide more optimism, which is at the root of the decision every time we elect a new government, a chance that something will actually change. That politicians seldom make a difference doesn’t seem to completely eliminate that sense of “maybe this time” when we go to the polls.

This is the same hopefulness that gets us to buy lottery tickets: we can dream of what we’ll do with the riches – a one-in-a-million chance – until the results come in and dash those hopes … but there’s always the next draw.

Unlike the winning lottery numbers, however, we have control over our resolutions and whether we stick to them. To a lesser extent, especially given the decreasing voter turnout, we have some control over our politicians – at least enough to throw the bums out. (That they are replaced by a new group of bums is another story.)

Many of us make resolutions casually only to just as easily break them. We then rationalize our actions. In our jaded age, we’re equally blasé about the same lack of follow-through from our elected officials – in fact, we’ve come to expect them to lie, cheat, break their promises and to otherwise act in a self-serving manner. That doesn’t mean, however, that we just accept the status quo.

In that light, the politicians are the ones who really need the resolutions, actually changing the way they govern. Leaving behind the deceit and actually doing what’s right instead of trying to convince us that down is up, the harm they do is advantageous and that changes to benefit the few are good public policy. Now that would be a Christmas miracle.

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