The “Said and Done” Principle

Once again, a new year is upon us. What are we actually celebrating? When December 31, 2020, becomes January 1, 2021 overnight, nothing changes except the date. Some may wish that everything will stay the way it is. Others eagerly hope for a change. How do you feel when you think about next year?

I could imagine that, for the first time in a long time, the desire for change is greater than the desire for everything to remain the way it is. This could be an opportunity.

Man changes the world

Since humans began their existence on this planet, about 300,000 years ago, they began to take their development into their own hands. They found out how to make fire. They invented language and writing, the wheel – probably one of the inventions that has changed life on earth more significantly than hardly anything else – and at some point, they also invented the computer. Humans are curious creatures who love their habits, but they also love improving their living conditions.

For about 200 years, man’s influence in this world has been growing rapidly. This has by no means only had negative consequences, as it may seem to some people today. On the contrary. Thanks to medical developments, for example, many diseases have become curable and others have been eradicated. Light and heat are no longer dependent on the time of day or year – they are available at all times. At least in Western industrial societies, we have created a life of unprecedented prosperity. Many take it for granted, and therefore, they no longer appreciate it – this prosperity that our ancestors would probably have dreamed of, if they could ever have imagined it, and that even today, people in other parts of the world can only dream of.

Everything is possible, but nothing should be taken for granted

The restrictions on public life this year, in an attempt to protect us against a virus, have exposed many breaking points in our society that have been ignored for years and that demand change. And they have also shown that none of the things we have become accustomed to can be taken for granted. This situation has shown us that everything can change completely from one day to the next.

Nowhere is it written that we are entitled to the prosperity we live in, or even that it is guaranteed that we will have it forever. It could even be that this kind of prosperity – which, by the way, excludes a large part of the earth’s population – contains an element of self-destruction within it, if it continues the way we are accustomed to. Perhaps the meaning of some of the experiences we have lived through this year involve questioning and changing our previous understanding of what we refer to as prosperity? For me, the opportunity of the new year lies in the fact that, for 2021, we should not wish for the quickest possible return to the old normality, but rather for a new, sustainable version of normality. Looking back at the start of last year, the mere willingness to even admit such a wish would have been progress.

From Wanting to Doing

Moving from wishing and wanting, to doing, to being able to do, is the challenge of any change, no matter how large or small it may be.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a personal resolution, such as doing more for the good of one’s own body, getting more exercise, going out for a run in the woods or somewhere else to strengthen the muscles, organs and immune system. Or standing up for fellow human beings who don’t have it as easy as we do. Or even showing civil courage, raising one’s voice when one hears somebody saying something, or intervening when one sees someone doing something that violates another person’s dignity.

Who or what is stopping me from doing something when I really and sincerely want to do it? “There is only one confirmation of wanting to do something, and that is doing it,” a wise person once said. And that’s how it is.

More than a fairy tale

Every now and then, my father used tell me the fairy tale of the Musicians of Bremen to get me to sleep. It’s the story of the four old animals from a farm that have become unprofitable for their owners: the donkey, the dog, the cat and the rooster. When they hear that the donkey is to be sold to the butcher, they get together and say to themselves: “We can find something better than death anywhere.”  “No sooner said than done” is the magic formula of the story at this point, because stout-hearted as they are, they flee together, and after some adventures along the way, they finally arrive in the town that will go on to erect a monument to them.

Well, that is only a fairy tale, you may say, and furthermore you may object that it is not always wise to put an idea or a revelation into action immediately and spontaneously. That’s true. Decisions of great consequence need to be considered and thought about before they are put into action. Collectively, we experienced enough of how difficult this can be in 2020.

In the end, however, what matters is what you do, and often whether you do it in time. Some revelations and good intentions that we have been carrying around with us for years are just waiting to be put into practice. That would be a good resolution at the end of this year: to follow up our thoughts in the new year not only with “said”, but also with “done”, as often as possible. I know from my own experience that it is possible. And it does us good. Because some of the things you didn’t do today, you won’t get the opportunity to do tomorrow.



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