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Patten: Resolutions For A New Year

A person runs away on a track that has 2019 on the ground.
"But as we begin a brand-new year, I resolve - especially for my grandchildren - to slow down, consume less and try not to be so cranky," writes VPR commentator Will Patten.

Another year rushes by! And I’m reminded of my uncle Bill who was born before indoor plumbing and automobiles. Bill marveled at the change he'd witnessed over 98 years but complained "It all happened too fast."

I grew up in a small Vermont town, where the old men would grouse about "kids these days" and their craving for leisure and possessions. "If we forget how to put in a good day’s work," they warned, "it'll be the end of us." Now I'm the cranky old man, and younger folk roll their eyes at my foreboding just as I rolled mine at their age.

But as the years whiz by I worry that there are too many people on our beautiful earth consuming our precious resources way too quickly, that a good day’s work has lost value in today’s global ethic, and that with the help of technology, we’re becoming dangerously self-absorbed, fretting over our individualized comfort and consumption. So, I worry about the future, and especially my four beautiful grandchildren.

The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, warned that unless we all agree to a social contract that checks our innate selfishness and promotes the greater good, life will be "nasty, brutish and short."

The idea of America was based on just such a contract on the premise that we’re all equals providing for our common security and prosperity through an orderly decision-making process called democracy that will sustain a government of, by, and for the people.

But today, many people rail against the very concept of government, against the restraints of a social contract – and for many, the motive is to enrich themselves and their friends.

Throughout our brief history on earth, significant change in societal direction has required major catastrophic events such as wars or economic collapse. And my fear is that just such an event is occurring right before our eyes in the destruction of the precarious climate that allows life to flourish on earth as massive global forces command us to keep growing and consuming.

But as we begin a brand-new year, I resolve - especially for my grandchildren - to slow down, consume less and try not to be so cranky.

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