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Making A Difference In the New Year

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. There is a profound awareness that we need to live and act differently.

However, in spite of a human landscape that is too often filled with horror, as the new year begins there is so much to be grateful for, so much to hope for and still so much that needs to be changed and /or improved.

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

In spite of growing economic stress, people continue to give 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.

Each day, I see firsthand the generosity of so many talented and gifted people. Local physicians, lawyers, accountants, social workers and teachers volunteer to help those who are trying to navigate the difficult landscape of daily living. Thanks to the generosity of many hearts, those 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 that 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've just forgotten, what we have promised to do differently.

As I was thinking about this New Year, a few things came to mind. This past year, we have been vividly reminded of our lack of sensitivity to diversity and difference. We have read about too many stories of hate and violence that could have been avoided. These stories of recklessness are clearly on the rise. School violence and renewed concerns around teenage substance abuse have been escalating. The issue of denial has emerged in many communities as an issue of 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 work 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 people who serve people in need, need to be more respectful and treat all people with dignity. Respect should be given freely, without condition or judgment.

We all have 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 one's skin, the clothes one wears, the piercings or tattoos one has or the lifestyle one 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-parenting/mentoring. 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-by trial and error.

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. However, parenting must be a full-time occupation. We are obliged to be attentive to our children and all of their needs. Whether they like it or not, discipline is not a dirty word. We must be willing to hold our children accountable even when it makes us uncomfortable. 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 how to act and react in certain social circumstances. Mentoring is a way for those who do not have children to have a positive influence on the children and young people in one's circle of life. They need your positive influence and example.

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 were 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 cell phone really improve your communication with the people that are most important in your life-or has it become a real distraction?

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

Remember, life without cell phones? We really did manage! Maybe as the New Year unfolds, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about the importance and use of all this technology.

Ultimately, we want to build bridges and not walls in our human relationships. Life is too short and too fragile to take unnecessary detours that could be avoided.
My final recommendation has to do with greater human cooperation and working together to make our communities better. Sometimes we get so lost in the maze of human living that we forget the need for human cooperation and 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 a charity that would not accept a material donation. However, there are other issues that are equally 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 to do the right thing for another human being.

I'm fortunate that I constantly see people going the extra distance on behalf of others that need that 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.

A young man from our community, born into a family of privilege, because of poor choices was living on the street. As a homeless teenager with no fixed address, he got into trouble and was incarcerated. Thanks to our district attorney, a very compassionate assistant district attorney and a Criminal Court Judge, we were able to defy the odds. Two days before Christmas, a young man was released to a treatment program that hopefully will empower him to get his life back on track again.

All of that happened, because key people were willing to think and act outside the box and cooperate with one another on behalf of someone in need-a formula for everyone to look at and try to emulate.

As this New Year begins, we are painfully reminded that we are all 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 may not pass this way again.

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