Trying To Make A New Year Better


January 09, 1994|By BRIAN SULLAM

The new year is more than a week old and about a quarter of us have already broken our resolutions, according to a researcher who has studied this subject.

John C. Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, told The Wall Street Journal that keeping resolutions is really a matter of redoubling efforts. He said that in some cases he studied, people succeeded only after failing 14 times.

So, don't despair.

Not only are you likely to fail before you succeed, you don't have to restrict resolution-making to the first day of the year. Every day is an opportunity to change your behavior and do something positive -- that's what I keep telling myself.

I have made a short list of new resolutions that I am willing to share. If you don't have any resolutions, you are free to appropriate from this list.

* I resolve to help a youngster read.

Even though Carroll County's school system posts the highest performance scores in the state, not all the children in school are achieving. Some kids are really struggling. Some of them have learning disabilities that require special attention, but others are underachievers who come from homes where reading is not considered a valuable activity. No one regularly reads with them.

In most Carroll classrooms, there isn't enough time for these students to read. As a result, these kids, who are already behind their peers, never get the practice needed to catch up. They fall farther and farther behind. Their poor reading affects achievement in other subjects and pulls down their entire academic performance.

Reading is like any other activity, like playing baseball, Nintendo or a guitar. That is, repeated practice improves performance. I am convinced that if these children could read with an adult for a half-hour a day, they could improve their learning skills and make up some of the ground they have lost.

So if your child is having problems with reading, resolve today to turn off the television and read with your child each evening. Alternate reading paragraphs. Be patient.

If you don't have a kid who is having trouble with reading, volunteer to read with a child.

Those of us who read and understand the vast world that opens up to us when we read owe it to these kids, and ourselves, to assist them.

* I resolve to do less damage to the environment.

I can hear the groans already. Protecting the environment is so faddish that it has almost lost its meaning. Even Miss America contestants say they won't drink, get pregnant and pollute during their staged interviews. But the reality is that by taking some small actions, most of us could make a big dent in reducing the damage we are doing to our natural surroundings.

I am willing to do my part. Instead of using my car to drive the three blocks between my office and the County Office Building or the County Courthouse, I will walk.

Walking will not only cut down on the emissions I am sending into the environment, it will help reduce my ever-expanding waist.

If I come across a discarded bottle or a newspaper on the sidewalk, I resolve to pick it up and place it a trash barrel.

If I retrieve one piece of trash each day for the entire year, that will be more than 300 pieces of litter that won't be blowing around Westminster. It also means that I will have done some stretching that I otherwise would not have, which may also contribute to my effort to reduce my girth.

* My third resolution is to be friendly to strangers.

We have become much too alienated from each other. We don't greet each other on the street, we are fearful of anyone we don't know and we assume the worst in strangers.

Certainly, there are bad people walking the streets. Even though they are in the minority, they have skewed our perceptions to the point that we are no longer a very friendly community.

In the past few years, I have watched my older daughter break down the barriers between people.

If we are standing in line and she makes eye contact with a person, she will comment on a piece of jewelry, clothing or the shoes they are wearing. This usually prompts a "thank you" and a story.

One day at the Giant checkout line, we learned about a woman's son who sent her an unusual brooch from Nigeria, where he was working as an engineer for a construction company.

My daughter has done this over and over again. It isn't even a conscious thing with her. She just wants to make some connection to these people standing around.

Several years ago, we were waiting in the dingy airport lobby in Guilin, China. She struck up a conversation with a Chinese scientist who happened to be sitting across from her.

It turned out that he had been to the United States and had spent some time in Ohio at several universities. He was happy to practice his English on us, and we grilled him about China. In the hour we waited for our flight, we learned more about living in China than we did from all our tour guides.

Even though I have offered these resolutions to you, dear readers, I am in no way obligating any of you to keep them.

I think, however, if we were to keep these resolutions, we would find ourselves living in a better community.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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