New Year’s goals are familiar to most. We vow to exercise more and eat better, travel more, and read more books. Yes to all of those things. But there’s an important resolution that is more important and helps spur others. Let this year also be the year we embrace being bold adults and demand those around us be the same.
Being a bold adult means being willing to face hard truths and decipher realistic perceptions into coherent action, in repeated situations.
We see the division between these true adults and the rest of society when a violent incident occurs in public. Invariably, there are several videos of the incident made by bystander who could have made a difference but chose not to instead. If only half of the mobile phone zombies we see on our sidewalks and subways actually took some meaningful action when these incidents occur, we’d be in a much better position. The true, bold adults are the ones who step in to stop the fight, or help the injured person or even call the police. Sure, having a dozen cell phone videos of a subway stabbing will help police solve the crime, but my gut tells me most of these on-the-spot auteurs are not planning to aid law enforcement but instead contribute to a viral spectator culture that is hollow and shameless.
There are too few people willing to be the adults in the room. This lack of maturity even spawned the term “adulting,” which is used by grown people amazed that they are behaving appropriately for their age groups. I can’t hate on these people too much though. I was still living in my family’s basement at the age my parents had two kids. I like to think I have made up for lost time.
Earlier in the evening on New Year’s Eve, my wife and I took our children to a small party thrown by people in our neighborhood. My wife noted that even though many of the people at the party lived within a few short blocks of each other, few of us had ever met. And here was a hopeful sign. People breaking out of the rote functions of surface celebration to have a meaningful interaction with neighbors. It’s a much-needed reaction to a culture that increasingly exacerbates the superficial and exploits the chasms between identity groups: new tribes form communities that work for them.
The parents gathered their children in a circle to help count down and ring in the New Year a few hours early so we could get our kids to bed at a decent hour. Then the adults cleaned up and went home, to welcome 2019 after the children were asleep.
I rang in the New Year while lifting weights, not because I’m a roid-raging meathead determined to inflate myself to grotesque proportions, but because I’m planning to make this year one of continued self-improvement. I have been a mobile phone zombie myself at times, and the staid and stressful routines of a middle-aged office worker have taken their toll. I have no one to blame but myself for being generally out-of-shape, but I wanted to set the tone right for the New Year in that this has to change.
Being the bold adult in the room can be a scary prospect. No one wants to be the one to put their head out, to risk ostracization or attack. But you will be glad you went forward and did what needs doing, turned away from what the herd is doing and tackled the business of life head-on.
2019 is going to be a great year. Make it so.
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were forced to say nice things about each other at the end of their most recent televised debate. It was the highlight of the debate and the question each candidate did the best at answering in my opinion.
There are deep ideological and cultural rifts coursing through this country, though is probably most consensus on things than people realize. Still, our politics reflect that and why shouldn’t they? There’s not a lot of consensus on things and we’re going to have to fight it out in the area of our legislatures and other corridors of power.
I submit this idea: there is more damage done by people trying to avoid fights than by engaging in them. Honestly think about that. We’re all so afraid of conflict that we will upend our lives to avoid them rather than face them head-on. Why?
Years ago when I was in college, I was active in a debate society and one of the officers was impeached and put on trial. It was trivial stuff that college kids love to blow out of proportion, but an entire meeting that would normally have been dedicated to debating the issues of the day was spent putting someone on trial with counsel and a judge and the society membership acting as jury. Debating the fate of the officer lasted into the wee hours of the morning, and he was convicted of several offenses but then not removed from office. Discussing this a year or so later, a member of a rival debate society thought this was the worst thing ever and boasted that this would never happen among their member. I told him, in the most diplomatic terms possible, that he was full of shit.
A life devoid of conflict is not life at all. And life is about resolving conflict, not avoiding it. What appeared to outsiders as a fratricidal bloodletting was business as usual for our group. We thrived on debate and emerged from the impeachment ordeal stronger and better. Sure there were hurt feelings and bruised egos; when aren’t there. A real debate society will never turn down an opportunity to debate.
Our state of politics is the same. It’s not comforting that the U.S. has widely disliked candidates heading our major parties’ tickets. But let’s have it out politically and fight our fights. Of course it’s going to get negative and nasty. Our statesmen of old were every bit as negative and back-biting as our politicians of today. The difference is that they didn’t pose and shirk their responsibilities to engage and fight it. That’s how things move forward. You’re not going to win every fight; but a battered fighter is worth ten times an unscathed coward.
Our Congress can block things and refuse to allow Supreme Court candidates or other candidates for important positions to come to a vote. That’s the most wuss thing you can do. Do you not want a candidate to hold office? Vote against them. Take a stand and let the chips fall where they may.
When battle lines are drawn, advance upon them, don’t retreat. Great nations were never built by people who avoided fighting for what they wanted.
In March of 2001, I saw a procession of people marching behind a fire engine down a street in Greenwich Village. I followed to see what was happening. It was a 90th anniversary commemoration in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which remains one of the deadliest event of its kind in New York. Firefighters stood at attention near their fire engine as people read the names of the 146 young women who perished.
Less than six months later, the September 11 attacks became the deadliest day in New York City history (displacing not the Triangle Shirtwaist fire but the General Slocum disaster, which killed more than 1,000 people).
What lesson I take from the September 11 attacks is that New York City’s spirit can’t be defeated and that New York City will be here forever.
The crucible of city life creates a population that can’t be broken. While crime is lower, it doesn’t mean survival has gotten easier. People are too busy to be scared, and New York was back up and running in less than a week. We pause to honor the dead but realize it would be an insult to the memory of those lost for us not to continue our lives.
Terrorist work to create fear in a population, which makes it all the more pointless for them to attack New York, a city that overcame collective fear a long time ago.
What we keep from the attacks are the demonstrations of our valor and courage. Every year in September, people come from around the world to run or walk the Tunnel to Towers 5K, which traces the route of Firefighter Stephen Siller, who ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel on September 11th to get to the site of the attacks where he gave his life for our city. Firefighters from every corner of the globe will often run in full firefighting gear as Siller did. If you’ve never taken part in one of these, you owe it to yourself to do. You won’t regret it, I promise you.
One of New York’s greatest punk bands, The Bullys, lost a founding member, Firefighter John Heffernan, in the attacks. Every year they commemorate his life with an awesome punk rock show. The defiant sounds of blaring punk rock and The Bullys incessant musical “fuck you” to all manner of poseurs and pussies defines New York more than weeping and flowers, though those have their place too.
People I had worked with, immigration inspectors at J.F.K. airport, went to Manhattan on their own time to do what they could, people lined up for hours on end to donate blood. New Yorkers stood on the West Side Highway into the wee hours of the morning to thank first responders heading home from long shifts on the pile. These are the images and lessons I remember about New York City from those days.
New York City is older than America. It was a force on this continent before it was even New York. It will still be here two thousand years from now. Live in it to the fullest or leave.