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New Year's 2008

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 for an election, to elect a new President. For the first time in our history, there is a woman running for the most important office in our country, as well as an African-American and a Mormon. There is a profound awareness that we need to live and act differently.

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 especially amazing. 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 those 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 forgot 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. We have also read about too many stories of hate and violence that could have been avoided. We've also seen a terrible increase in teenage death due to recklessness, violence and substance abuse. School violence is escalating at an alarming rate. The issue of denial has emerged in many communities as an issue of vital concern. A growing number of people are concerned that too many adults are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to holding their children accountable.

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 the 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" and instant messaging, then they do communicating with those in their immediate family.

Remember not too long ago, there was life without cell phones and instant messaging! We really did manage. Nobody really died because they did not have 24 hour a day accessibility to us! We genuinely need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the importance and use of all of this technology as the New Year unfolds.

My final recommendation has to do with greater human cooperation in working together to make our communities better. Sometimes we get so lost in the maze of human survival that we forget the need for human cooperation in working together to make our communities more loving places to be.

We are fortunate that we live in a very generous community. The spirit of generosity is overwhelming. Throughout the year, so many charitable causes thrive thanks to the generous spirit of so many caring people. I don't know one charity that would not accept a material donation. However, there are other issues that are equally as important that money can't buy or support.

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 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 and cooperate in new ways that will make our community better. Remember, you can make a difference that counts! Happy New Year!