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Monday, December 29, 2008

We hereby resolve

Ken Kerr Bio

Sources place the origin of the New Year's Resolutions tradition to 153 B.C. Rome. The god, Janus, for whom the first moth of the year was named, was placed at the head of the calendar. With his two faces, Janus looked back at the past and forward to the future. This gave him incredible insight into what went poorly and how to avoid it in the future.

Janus became the ancient symbol for year-ending resolutions as Romans looked for forgiveness and exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year. Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, otherwise known as the Roman Emperor Constantine, declared Christianity as the official religion of Rome with the Edict of Milan in 313, these traditions began their transformation for pagan to Christian.

At this time each year, we take up this ancient custom as we resolve to improve ourselves. Steven Shapiro, Author, Innovation Consultant and Speaker, found

· 34% set resolutions related to money

· 38% set resolutions related to weight

· 47% set resolutions related to self-improvement or education

· 31% set resolutions related to relationships

We are in a time of crisis in the United States. There is a claim, perhaps apocryphal, that the Chinese character for "crisis" is the same as the one for "opportunity." I don't know if it's true, but it's an intriguing concept. Perhaps this year it should be a national effort to resolve as a population to set to use this crisis as an opportunity and resolve to make ourselves a better people.

The United States Federal Government has an Office of Citizen Services and Communications. Curiously, they publish a list of the ten most popular New Year's Resolutions. Let's take a look at each and see how it applies to us as a nation.

#1. Lose Weight

We are at the apex of a 20-year trend in becoming an obese population. The surgeon general estimates it costs over half-a-trillion dollars in increased medical costs to address our poor diets and over eating. We evolved to be a hunter-gatherer species that eats lean meats and fruits and vegetables—not corn-fed beef and white bread. Actually, grain should not even be part of our diet. Corn syrup is the crack cocaine of the food industry. We—you and I—subsidize the corn industry to the tune of $5 billion a year to find more ways to introduce more corn into our diet. Subsidies to farmers, almost $20 billion a year, are out-of-synch with the government created food pyramid. In fact, if we all followed it, there would not be enough fruit and vegetables for everyone to eat a healthy diet.

#2. Managing Debt

The average American household has $10,000 in credit card debt. We don't have to repeat the foreclosure crisis, bailouts, the federal deficit . . . we all know we are in trouble here. I have three words for all of us, "pay-with-cash." When considering "paper or plastic," Andrew Beattie, of Investopedia, insists, "Cash is almost always the better choice." That 1950's relic, layaway, is making a comeback, and we should all take a hint. If we can't pay for it, and we don't absolutely need it, we should not buy it.

#3. Save Money

Seventy percent of us live paycheck-to-paycheck. That's really stupid. Americans save an average of $392 a year—that's three-hundred-and- ninety-two dollars. Consumer debt is at $2.5 trillion and, according to the Housing Bubble, "As of 2008, the average household debt is $117,951 and this includes credit cards, installment loans, home equity loans, and mortgages." This is not sustainable.

Get a Better Job

Good luck with this one. We should probably resolve to "keep a job" in 2009. Nonfarm payroll employment fell sharply (-533,000) last November, and the unemployment rate rose from 6.5 to 6.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Obama hopes to generate 2 million new jobs with his $210 billion jobs program. However, that will just get us back to where we were at the start of 2008.

#4. Get Fit

There is something that separates us middle-agers from our younger-agers. When we are out of shape, we buy bigger clothes and wear things to hide the fact that we are fat. Kids no longer share that shame. Whereas we wanted a six pack the past few years we have seen the "muffin top" become a fashion.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends a 30 minute walk five-days-a-week and two sessions-a-week of strength training. However, the Wall Street Journal tells us that fewer that 16% of us are physically active on any given day according to a map showing that the most active American live on the west coast, in Alaska, and Hawaii. We all saw the pictures of Barack Obama shirtless on a Hawaiian beach. That should inspire us.

#5. Eat Right

Bottom line—we eat too much. Second bottom line—we eat the wrong stuff. We are eating ourselves to death. We gotta stop that.

#6. Get a Better Education

We lag behind most of the developed world in education. According to a CNN report, "The total cost of going to a private four-year college rose to $34,132 on average for the 2008-09 academic year. In-state students at public four-year schools paid an average of $14,333 for the current school year, according to the College Board, a non-profit association of more than 5,400 schools, colleges and universities. That's an increase of 5.7% from the previous year." What makes it worse is that the cost of a college education has risen at about 7% a year while household incomes for the poorest Americans—who need access to higher education the most—rose at only 3%. As an Illinois senator, Barack Obama worked to address this issue. Let's hope he is able to affect change on a greater scale as president.

#7. Drink Less Alcohol

I have a better idea: do less cocaine. We need to communicate the message that doing cocaine is unpatriotic. Much of the money spent by Americans on cocaine leads t a destabilization of our international neighbors and finds its way into the hands of terrorists. We need to resolve to look at the War on Drugs differently. Over $10 billion-a-year has been spent and we have made no progress except to put over two-million Americans in prison. Half of all prisoners are behind bars for drugs. We need a rational drug policy that addresses the real issues of poverty, opportunity, and access. Drugs are not the problem—they are the symptom.

#8. Quit Smoking Now

We are actually keeping this resolution pretty well. About one-in-five Americans now smoke, down from 28% a decade ago. Smoking peaked in 1954 with about half of Americans smoking. Sadly, while older Americans are quitting, younger Americans are taking up the habit. I guess they need something to go with those muffin tops.

#9. Reduce Stress Overall

If our diet is not killing us, stress is. Two-thirds of Americans seek help for stress—and that is just those who seek it out. Fifty-four percent of us say it is a real concern. We have a tendency to live to work in this country. We put our jobs over our lives and families. We should resolve this year to work to live. It is becoming increasingly obvious that our employers do not share the same level of commitment and obligation to us that we have historically felt toward them. We do not owe them our lives, just an honest day's work.

#10. Volunteer to Help Others

A lot of research has been done on happiness these past few years. What it found was that more money does not bring more happiness. More things, we have found, just bring more debt. So what will make us happy? Doing things for others. We face a few tough years. There is much to be done. Let's all resolve to do things for others this year.

When 9/11 happened, we were all eager and waiting to help. We would have done anything President Bush asked of us. Anything. He asked us to shop. Well, we see where that got us.

In a few weeks, President Barack Obama is going to ask us to do something to get the country healthy again. Let's listen. Let's heed the call. Let's all pitch in and work without expectation of personal gain. Research shows it will make us happier. Let's all resolve to be happy.

Let's drink a cup of kindness. Happy New Year.


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1 comment:

Chas said...

Dr. Kerr --

A-freakin-MEN! We're at an unprecedented crossroads, and without a radical change in our basic MO, we'll probably continue plummeting to third-world status. There's no Law of Nature that America must always be Number One.

Speaking of crossroads, I googled "chinese ideogram crisis," and this was the first link that popped up:

Apparently, the sinograph for "crisis" contains an element suggesting "crossroads," but is not really related to "opportunity."