This month.....

Improving me, celebrating you

I’m increasingly finding that at this time of year I’m wondering “where did the last year go?”

Perhaps I am also looking back to last year’s New Year’s resolutions. How did they go? Did they last the whole year? Was it just January? Or in many cases I wonder if they even lasted a whole week? The first Saturday of January in 2019 saw the largest turn out at my local Parkrun at Lydiard Park that we had ever seen, beaten only by the following Saturday’s attendance. We’ve had good numbers since but not quite at the level of January.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is deeply embeded in our society, most of us think about making some in the week between Christmas Day and New Year but so many of us stumble in the days following New Year. Perhaps New Year’s day, after a late night seeing the New Year in, is just not the best time to start.

In those days between Christmas Day and New Year, when many people have time off from work, when for some life seems to pass at a more reasonable pace but also a week that is so difficult for people who rely upon the support of others. A week often difficult for families with school age children. A difficult week for those who are homeless or who have recently been made unemployed. When many of us have leisure at Christmas others have Crisis at Christmas. In that week many of us have time and space to reflect, if only briefly, and from that reflection set ourself some goals for the New Year.

So how does that reflection work? Perhaps some of us stand upon bathroom scales and are presented with a reality we would rather not have to face. Perhaps some of us meet up with family and friends whom we have not seen for a time and measure ourselves agains the perception we have of them. Perhaps we just reflect upon the past year and think about where we would like to be this time next year. Such reflection leading to action can be good but there is a darker side.

Going back to Parkrun, there are many things that have made this ‘movement’ so successful. It’s free to enter and everyone is welcome if you take 15 minutes to run 5Km or an hour and 15 minutes to slowly walk it that’s fine. You cannot be last however long you take because one of the volunteer roles is back marker, someone who will make certain that everyone has finished by deliberately finishing last and normally walking with the slowest person to make certain they are okay.

Most of us taking part in Parkrun realise that the only person we are really competing with is ourselves. Yes we soon get to know the people who complete 5Km in a similar time to ourself and a friendly rivalry can help us improve. Some who have run at our pace have improved and we now see them futher up the field. Some have got slower and we might wait for a while to see them finish.

The potential negative side can be when one looks at those finishing much further up the rankings and we might end up being unrealistically envious about their performance, the 10th commandment can be a real issue. But who suffers from the unrealistic expectations that we put upon ourselves? More damaging is when we look back down the field and are critical of people who have not performed as well as we have, it’s easy to do with people we don’t know. But when we get to know some of those slower regulars we are reminded that we are all on a journey. Those starting Parkrun at this time of year and who keep it up will see progress through the year. If we spot these people we can delight in their progress rather than be threatened by it, especially if we are getting slower. Those behind us might soon be those in front of us. We can all be envious of those who are better than us and even threatened by those who are improving and show every sign of being better than us.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in nationalism throughout the world. Taking pride in who we are is okay but often nationalism is voiced by measuring who we are against others and getting a raised sense of ourselves by assessing others as being not as good as we are. This often happens at times of national crisis and self doubt when the story of a nation is re written. There are obvious examples in the 20th Century. The danger of defining ourselves by defining others as not as good as we are is that there is only a small step between this and defining people as being less than fully human or not even really human at all.

Dramatically this has shown itself in genocides; the 20th century has been referred to as the century of genocide a century in which 4 times more people died because of genocide than because of war. Other people have not been allowed to florish because of their ethnicity, gender or belief: The film “Hidden Figures” tells the story of the crucial work done by AfroCaribean women on the space programme of the mid to late 20th century. The story of how easy it would have been to have lost a whole pool of talent who were crucial to humanities successes in space.

We live in dangerous times as so many countries continue to redefine themselves. Fine if success is celebrated and development encouraged. Dreadful if national pride rises by denegrating and pushing down others.

So this year lets use that time of reflection between Christmas and New Year to look again at ourselves and be inspired by what others have achieved but let’s not be put off by envy and lets look for those we can encourage. Let be positive about us and not negative about others.

Wishing us all the very best with our New Year’s resolutions!

Richard Curtis