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. Our first African-American President has finished his first year in office. Before he was sworn in, he was confronted with a wide range of very complicated social and human issues. From health care to the economy spiraling out of control, to our approach to homeland security to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq; although his first year in office has been a roller coaster at best, President Obama has demonstrated courage and unwavering commitment to lead our nation forward to peace and prosperity.
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 continuing to burden a growing number of families. I only wish we could bottle the spirit of generosity and compassion and tap into it throughout the entire year.
In spite of our 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 Christmas time, 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, psychiatrists, 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 the resolutions we have just made. Or, maybe we just forget what we promised to do differently.
As I was thinking about this year, a few things came to mind. This past year, we have been painfully reminded of the senseless loss of life due to the out-of-control use of heroin. Over the past several months a number of communities have held public forums to discuss the seriousness of the heroin epidemic on Long Island and within their local communities. Thousands of people have responded to these gatherings, many sharing their own painful experience with this infectious drug. A number of young adults with various profiles overdosed on heroin this past year; countless communities were left feeling helpless and numb, not knowing what to do.
We continue to battle the issue of discrimination and hate in our larger community. The rhetoric regarding this sensitive issue continues to be horrific and senseless. The finger-pointing and harsh words are reprehensible. People are not born to hate. They learn that behavior. We have to ask ourselves some hard questions around tolerance, respect, difference and diversity.
So, my first recommendation for the New Year is that we work harder at respecting all people, no matter what their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, or politics. Respect costs nothing, but shapes everything. It serves no purpose to gossip or malign another person s character and 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 and 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 our 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 learn by doing and 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. We all need positive influences in our lives.
My final recommendation has to do with risk-taking. Too often we see things that trouble us and we keep silent. Sometimes, that silence can be lethal, especially when it comes to our children s social behaviors. We need to speak up and step out, in regards to the reckless decision making that a number of our young people are engaging in regarding the illegal use of alcohol, prescription medications and illegal drugs. If we care about our children and their future, we must have the courage to risk our own comfort and do the right thing!
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 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 think and act more positively with a cooperative spirit in ways that will make our community better. Remember, you can make a difference that counts! Happy New Year!