Resolutions, Julius Caesar, and Peacocks

Written By: Tawny Tesconi, Executive Director
Published: January 7, 2022

I have something to share. Some of you may find it odd, but I often watch television with a tablet, laptop, or smartphone at the ready. Only a few programs hold my attention, so I often check email or work on projects while sitting in front of the “tube”.  What I enjoy most about this pastime is the in-the-moment opportunity to look up an actor’s bio, find the real story behind one of those movies that are “based on a true story” or research stuff on the screen that interests me. During my couch time, I often search the web about how certain phrases came about (i.e. raining cats and dogs) or how rituals came to be.

In the spirit of the season, a few rainy nights ago, I looked up the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions and learned that the resolution tradition was founded in farming. As far back as 4,000 years, the ancient Babylonians were the first people to make New Year’s resolutions around the planting of crops. Unlike modern-day cultures with a January 1 new year start date, and a single New Years’ Eve celebration; the Babylonians began their new year in mid-March and had a 12-day festival. They were my kind of people! Several other cultures followed their lead, each with a slightly different focus on the tradition.

I am not going to share my New Year’s resolution since I don’t have one, but I thought I would take it upon myself to write some resolutions for our policymakers. I know they are on recess, so I offer my unsolicited services to provide direction for the upcoming year. I believe that having New Year’s resolutions on the ready would help our elected officials get 2022 kicked off with a bang.

Measuring outcomes is important, so in addition to identifying my proposed resolutions below, I am also sharing my prediction of success for each commitment. Statistics are all over the board regarding the average success rate for New Year’s resolutions, but generally less than half of the resolutions are successful by mid-year, and less than 10% are still being honored by the end of the year. Experts say it’s because we tend to develop resolutions that are too hard to achieve. Hmm.

Resolution #1: “As a government body, we will pay our debts and return any objects that we have borrowed”.

The Babylonian culture rang in the new year by resolving to pay their debts and return borrowed items. When Babylonians kept their word, their gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. There are lessons to be learned with this practice for our leaders, especially our federal government. As of this writing, the national debt is at almost $30 trillion.  In hindsight, to resolve to pay off this debt may be too heavy of a lift, so let’s just resolve to stop incurring debt. And to return items that are borrowed? Well, I see my tax dollars as borrowed since they are supposed to come back to me in the way of services and infrastructure. I am not feeling it, are you? Predicted Success Rate: 0%

Resolution #2: “As a government body, we realize our past mistakes and will resolve to do and be better in the future”.

Borrowed from early Christian cultures, it is their tradition to use the first day of the new year to think about one’s past mistakes and resolve to do and be better in the future. This tradition is still practiced today and is attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who started this ritual in 1740. For this resolution to be achieved, policymakers would have to admit to making mistakes, but it is more likely that they point a finger at someone else or some other governmental body suggesting they provided incorrect information or negatively influenced the outcome that caused the error. There may be a glimmer of hope for this resolution, though, with elections. Candidates do often build their campaign around mistakes made by their opponent and often vow to do it differently if elected. Predicted Success Rate: 4%

Resolution #3: “As a policymaker, I will maintain good conduct and respect one another”.

Related to resolutions, the ancient Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year. (Given that 60 of his fellow senators assassinated him, it is ironic that this practice was put into play by Julius Caesar). In 46 B.C. Caesar was also the emperor who determined that January 1 would start the new year. Named for the two-faced god Janus, whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches, it was believed that Janus symbolically looked back into the previous year and ahead into the future.

Good conduct? I don’t know if you agree, but the behavior and fellowship being exhibited by some of our local officials in the last few months would put many kindergartner classes to shame. Predicted Success Rate: 1.5%

Resolution #4: “As an elected official, I renew my vow to chivalry”.

Ok, maybe a stretch to connect the dots, but I found this tradition most interesting. In the Middle Ages, knights would renew their vow to chivalry by placing their hands on a live or roasted peacock. The annual “Peacock Vow” would take place as a resolution to maintain their knighthood values. The ideal knight innately possessed courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.

Since peacocks can be hard to catch or roast, I predict a success rate of 0% for this one. But looking at the qualities of knighthood, we need more knights to be elected officials.

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