The New Year’s column I wrote instead of eating dinner

new-year-2018

For some unknown reason, I thought it might be a good idea to make dinner reservations for my wife and me at 9:45PM on New Year’s Eve. That means I’m sitting here at my kitchen table while my wife watches people in Times Square volunteer to be treated like tundra cattle. As much fun as that appears, I’d prefer to offer a few reflections on 2017 and some aspirations for the coming year.

I reread my New Year’s column from last year and the part about our politics and the way we treat each other is largely unchanged. The senseless fighting, the ongoing outrage, and the expectation that the next generation obediently fall in line remain annoyingly present. People are still trolls on social media and watching way too much cable news.

Be nice. It’s really not that hard. It is way more difficult to be angry all the time.

The world is full of problems, and I’m interested in helpful solutions rather than partisan ones. In 2017, I realized I wasn’t alone. That was cool.

Plenty of younger conservative-types seem to be finding their footing and aren’t afraid to challenge the incumbent power structure. We’re asking “Why?” The responses are increasingly antagonistic to principles of open markets and free people. Instead of simply keeping our heads down, we’re pushing back. This is a big deal for those of us with an ideological core leaning heavily toward respecting authority. Sometimes that authority is just plain wrong.

Those of us doing the pushing are taking it on the chin in terms of the approval of our elders, but the decision between liberty and political conformity is increasingly clear for many.

This year also reminded me that people are infinitely more important than my politics. In 2017, I purposefully spent time with people who challenged my beliefs. I’ve reveled in a myriad of conversations that resulted in understanding without agreement. At other times this year, unsettling dialogues have lingered with me for days. I’ve increasingly realized the growth happens at the margins where convenient, tidy, conclusions are scarce.

That has made me a better father to my sons. I’m not just teaching them to repeat after me. I need them to understand. We spent most of the year tearing things apart, looking under rocks and searching for connections between the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our world. Over the holidays, all of that hard work was crystallized in a moment.  My 8-year-old programmed a robot that rolled up to me, blinked a few times and said, in my son’s voice, “What the crap?”

I’ve got more work to do in 2018.

I also had an eye-opening experience at an end of the year event at the R Street Institute. We brought in Evan Smith from Box of Crayons to help our team learn to give and receive feedback more effectively. Teambuilding functions at work don’t always get the warmest reception, but Evan hooked me with one simple tip: Assume positive intent.

A few weeks later, my wife and I had a conversation on a long car ride that centered on the same concept. We realized that we weren’t doing the greatest job of giving each other the benefit of that basic assumption. That was pretty eye opening. We love each other and still weren’t assuming positive intentions. How much more have I failed to do that with my friends, colleagues and family members?

Why don’t we all try assuming positive intent in the coming year?

Instead of presuming that somebody is an enemy, give them a chance. It might become a productive relationship between people with different points of view. If they abuse that assumption, then we’re at least responding to actual behavior rather than fighting figments.

As normal people have been eating while I’ve been reflecting on the year, it’s time for me to take my bride out on the town. That’s probably why my wife is looking at me and telling me to put on my pants. Happy New Year, folks. Here’s to new adventures in 2018.

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