New Year's 2009

As the New Year begins, we are still a nation at war. Thousands of families continue to mourn and thousands of children are parentless. As a nation, we are divided on the approach to peace ...

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As the New Year begins, we are still a nation at war. Thousands of families continue to mourn and thousands of children are parentless. As a nation, we are divided on the approach to peace in the Middle East. We are also preparing to welcome a new President. For the first time in our history, there will be an African American as President of our nation. There is a profound awareness that we need to live and act differently; that the American dream is not dead, but truly alive!

Every holiday season, I continue to be amazed at the tremendous generosity of people: from our local churches and temples with their congregational outreaches to our schools and colleges pitching in to respond to people in need. This year has been overwhelming, especially with our present economic crisis unfolding. I only wish we could bottle the spirit of generosity and compassion and tap into it throughout the year.

In spite of growing economic stress, people continue to give unbelievably of their time, talent and treasure. So many charitable causes are able to make a difference due to the countless hands and hearts that step up and give of themselves each day, not just at Christmastime, but throughout the entire year.

Each day, I see firsthand the generosity of so many talented and gifted people. Local physicians, lawyers, accountants, social workers and teachers to name a few, who volunteer to help those who are trying to navigate the difficult landscape of daily living. Thanks to the generosity of so many hearts, those that they touch have a chance to keep their lives on track and move forward. Without this generosity, many people in need would lose their way.

Every New Year, we usually begin by making a series of resolutions we intend to keep. However, because we re human, usually by day two or three, we have broken one, if not all of the resolutions we have just made. Or, maybe we just forget what we promised to do differently.

As I was thinking about this New Year, a few things came to mind. This past year, we ve been vividly reminded of our lack of sensitivity to diversity and difference. Right before Thanksgiving, we were shocked as a community and as a nation at the senseless killing of an Ecuadorian man in Patchogue. He was singled out by seven misguided high school students from a local high school because of his look. He was beaten up and stabbed to death. When the young men were questioned about their behavior and asked how frequently they sought out Hispanic or Latino looking persons to torment, they said not often, just once a week!

The rhetoric that exploded around this horrific tragedy was almost as disturbing as this senseless death. The finger-pointing and harsh words were reprehensible. Teenagers are not born to hate. They learn that behavior. We have to ask ourselves some hard questions around tolerance and respect for difference in diversity. On that Friday night, we failed that innocent young man as a community and as a nation.

So, my first recommendation is that we worker harder at respecting all people, no matter what their race, color, creed or sexual orientation. Respect costs nothing, but shapes everything. It serves no purpose to gossip or malign another person s reputation. People in public service (including religious leaders) need to be more respectful. People in need and the people who serve them need to be treated with more respect and dignity. Respect should be given freely, without condition or judgment.

We need to work harder at being less judgmental of human circumstances and situations that we don t understand. We should never judge another by the color of his or her skin, the clothes he or she wears, the piercings or tattoos he or she displays or the lifestyle he or she embraces. If we judge less and respect more, the violence that is infecting our communities will be substantially reduced.

My second recommendation has to do with family and mentoring. Everywhere I turn, I hear another god-awful story of a family that is fragmented and falling apart. No matter what your family system, each member of the family needs to be committed to giving his or her best. Most of us know that raising children is probably a parent s greatest challenge. None of us received a handbook when our children were born or adopted. In simple terms, we learned by doing, by trial and error. This year, let s work harder at affirming family life and family time. As adults, let s work harder at supporting each other in strengthening family ties.

Life s landscape is much more complicated today. Some of the simple solutions of yesteryear cannot be used in responding to our children s needs today. Whether we like it or not, parenting must be a full-time occupation. We must be willing to hold our children accountable, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Our greatest challenge is that we must lead by example and expect that they will follow.

Mentoring is a positive way to lead by example. It encourages us to show our children how to do certain things and also to explain to them how to act and react in certain social circumstances. It is also a social mechanism that can be tapped for children who do not have positive role models in their circle of life. We all need positive influences in our lives.

My third recommendation has to do with our technology. Technology is a tremendous gift, if used properly. When it replaces all human contact or becomes more important than human contact, it becomes a serious problem. Our computers, cell phones and all of our other technological gadgets are intended to improve the quality of life around us, not further impair it.

Take a moment: think about how much time you spend on the computer. How much of that time really improves the quality of your life? Does your computer time block you from working on your interpersonal relationships? Does your cell phone really improve your communication with people that are important in your life or has it become more of a distraction?

Our children are becoming computer literate by early elementary school. By middle school and high school, many of our children literally spend more time on the computer within My Space, Face Book and instant messaging then they do communicating with those in their immediate family.

My final recommendation has to do with gratitude. Are we grateful for the big and small things in our lives? Do we express our gratitude to those who bless us on a regular basis? These are tough times. Statisticians tell us that things will continue to economically deteriorate. Are we grateful for the simple things that we enjoy on a regular basis?

In 1987, I was afforded an opportunity to share reflections about life, about family, about community and about young people. For more than 20 years, many of you have read this column. Many have agreed with my comments and some have not. I am profoundly grateful to all of you who have read these reflections over the years, and especially those who've taken the time to express their disagreement and their agreement. Your support these 20 plus years has encouraged me to stay the course and continue to speak to the delicate issues that bind us together as a community. I am deeply grateful to the publisher of the Times Beacon Record Newspapers for providing this venue for the free expression of a wide range of ideas and concerns that touch all of us.

Probably the greatest gift we can give is the gift of a cooperative spirit, where people are willing to go the extra mile, never looking for anything in return, but just looking to do the right thing for another human being. I am fortunate that I constantly see people going the extra distance on behalf of others who need support. That human experience encourages me to continue to do what I do for our larger community. For the power of their example, I am forever grateful.

As the New Year begins, let us be more vigilant. Let us call our government to greater accountability to be more responsive to the needs of those among us who are less fortunate. The poor and the homeless are not invisible, and government should not act as if they are. We are all painfully reminded that we are vulnerable and not invincible. All life is sacred, but only temporary. Thus, whatever we can do to make life better, we need to do it now, for we will not pass this way again.

So, as the New Year unfolds, let us all think about how we can act more positively with gratitude and cooperate in new ways that will make our community better. Remember, you can make a difference that counts! Happy New Year!