Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on December 31, 2018. 

As 2018 is ending, there is a funny thing happening: the resolution machinery is put to work. Open any big box store flyer and you’ll be reminded of resolutions, particularly the fitness ones. The distance between today’s you (somewhat heavier and poorer you after Christmas eating and shopping,) and the better you of tomorrow (possibly fitter but just as poor or worse if you give in to promises and buy promises shaped like fitness machines,) is ultimately yours to decide on.

We go through the same resolution moves year after year. While I agree that every new year is a chance to get yourself to be better in whatever ways you choose – which we all should do, I could also argue that should anyone want to change their ways, they can do it starting tomorrow or next week. ideally, if one has reason enough to seek something better, they will; new year resolution time or not.

As for becoming fitter, which is another way to say healthier, I’d say it’s best done outside for at least two reasons reasons.

First, being outside for long enough allows you to see nature. We are lucky in Kamloops to still have nature parks all over and wilderness at our fingertips. Seeing nature will (ideally) inspire some to protect it, even if that manifested through the simple act of picking up garbage in a park (or not leaving any behind to begin with.)

That our natural world is aching is no secret: in the age of habitat loss due to human activity (both industrial and recreational,) which has pushed more than half of the wildlife species into extinction, we need to remember that we are but part of the circle, not the hand that traces it. Climate change conversations are still met by many with disbelief, though it is in everybody’s interest to move past that and sow the seeds for a better (still salvageable, the optimists might say,) future. Case in point: the latest report on the Alberta, B.C. and Yukon glaciers, 80 percent of which will melt in the next 50 years.

Second, being outside means meeting fellow humans and through that, their stories too. Over the last couple of years of sustained daily hikes with the dog I have come to meet and befriend people from all walks of life. It’s humbling to become acquainted with the best and worst of humanity, but I believe it necessary. Being connected to people in real life and in real ways is what paves the path to better versions of ourselves.

It is ironic that we live in the age of uber-connection; almost everyone I know is connected to their fellow humans through social media; with so much exposure to life happenings, you’d think the compassion levels would be increasing constantly, and the collective spirit of kindness would keep us all warm and fuzzy. The reality has it differently: many become desensitized and, often dismissive and judgmental.

More than once I have come across stories of grief; many the comments they elicit from readers were anything but compassionate. The end-of-the-year count of illicit drug overdose deaths (120 in our province in November,) brought mockery, judgment and downright meanness to the front seat. Readers argued that people struggling with addiction should just grow up already and make better choices. As if it were that easy.

The argument that many people have to pay for their healthcare while people with addictions enjoy free care is poorly constructed one. Our family had to pay for ambulance service and medication for our youngest son who suffers from asthma, but I do believe that declaring substance addictions a whim is a dangerous simplification of a very complicated problem. At best, we can all agree that the health system needs changes, and also that we have much to learn about trauma, addictions, and the dark paths people take at times despite the obvious awful consequences. Resentment is never a building block to better outcomes.

Getting to meet people in real life and getting to know them and their stories as time goes by, expands the mind and the heart. We need more of both in each person in the times we live in. Compassion is the most treasured and elusive of currencies these days.

When it comes to the world surrounding us, people and nature, our journey through it should go beyond the personal quest. I can see no better way to honour our humanity and the future we build for ourselves and our children. Kind words, positive actions, abstaining from judgment and instead opening our minds to learning, allowing ourselves to be reminded of the many sides of life unfolding… While I am hard to convince that a fitness goal at the beginning of a new year lasts long enough, I need no convincing that we ought to wish for better and make it happen. Any day of the year is a good one; here’s to 365 brand new ones.

Have a happy, (more thoughtful, more compassionate and fuller of gratefulness) new year!