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I’m a sucker for a routine. I like settling into the grooves of a day, a month, a year – the ebbs and flows of life as it happens within an ordered system. Maybe that’s why I enjoy being a teacher so much; there are definitive starts and stops throughout the year, all leading to the finale in May. And, in August, we do it all again. There’s a comfort in that order, a neatness in the structure. 

Two days ago, we all collectively participated in the tried and true routine of transitioning from one year to the next – memes were shared, balls were dropped, corks were popped, and we all wondered when we’d finally escape the shadow of 2020. Spoiler alert: it probably won’t be this year.

Of all the New Year’s memes that slid up and down the screen of my phone, one stood out from the rest. In the picture, Mad Men character Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is standing in front of a white piece of poster board with the year 2024 written across the front of it in the colors of LIFE Cereal. Draper’s hair is sloppily parted – a far cry from his usual dapper demeanor and a caption at the bottom reads, “Ok, everybody ready?”

If you’re a Mad Men connoisseur like me, you know this scene as the “Life Cereal” scene in which Don shows up drunk after winning an advertising award earlier in the evening and attempts to pitch a strategy to the Life Cereal brass. Obviously, it doesn’t go well as Don belches out loud and tries his hardest to come up with slurred slogans off the top of his head. The meme felt right on point for the potential of the coming year.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions; I don’t think behaviors can simply change at the snap of a finger. Growth and evolution are processes that take intention and discipline. Often, the steps on the path of improvement are two up and one back, and sometimes, that ratio is inverted for a while. Two areas I’ve been working on for myself since January of 2020 are two pieces of myself that tend to affect most of the other parts of my life for better or for worse: mindfulness and authenticity. 

When I’m truly mindful, I pay attention to my body, mind, and spirit and how all three entities work together. What am I putting into my body, my mind? Are those affecting each other positively or negatively? How do I feel about myself and my responses to people? Are they influenced by anything I’m reading, watching, or listening to? When I’m not being intentionally mindful, well, that’s when things can go awry. 

Authenticity has been a work in progress. Being raised as a respectful, southern boy and near the front pew of a Baptist church, I always wanted to please people – specifically people in authority. There wasn’t a lot of space for authentic feelings or thoughts while I was doing my best just to please everyone else. When that inevitable rebellion finally happened, I really leaned into being an asshole to people I didn’t agree with, but I’ve slowly realized that that isn’t productive either. And it wasn’t authentic. 

So, here’s where mindfulness and authenticity intersect on this second day of 2024.

This year will be challenging; there’s no way around it. I’m greatly concerned for our city, our state, and our country. We’ve lost the ability to talk reasonably with one another. We communicate on different planes of thought without even noticing that we’re not on the same track. We believe lies because one party says those lies are truths. We’ve allowed ourselves to be manipulated by Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, and Rachel Maddow. We wear our Ds and Rs like they’re the jerseys of a sports team, but the legislators in those parties aren’t playing meaningless games on a field or a court. 

For the next 11 months, our country will have to weather the storm of a presidential election that will likely feature Donald Trump against Joe Biden…again. We all deserve better than that. We should admit it. It’s something, I believe, on which we can all agree. If the 2024 election cycle plays out as I think it will, it will be brutal for all of us. 

On the local level, we have contested school board races in almost every district – both parties recruiting their own candidates to run in a race that never should’ve been partisan, to begin with.

It wasn’t that long ago we saw the worst of some of our citizens (and candidates) come out during last year’s City Mayoral race. We’ve started to allow the cancer of national narratives to infiltrate our city, and no one wins when that happens. 

We all have to be mindful of our conversations around these issues, but we also have to be authentic in what we believe to be true and best for EVERYONE in our city, state, and country. We can’t limit our communication to social media posts or op-ed articles. Yes, there’s a place for both of those vehicles of conversation, but they can’t be our be-all and end-all. 

I’ve spent a lot of time on the radio over the last year and had conversations with people I disagree with. When you hear a voice, though, it demystifies the thoughts and beliefs of someone, and it humanizes who they are. With very few exceptions, I’ve had rich conversations with people whom I thought I couldn’t stand. In the end, we still disagreed, but points were made and questioned on both sides, hopefully bringing a little context and understanding to the conversation.

All this isn’t to say that there’s not a place to fight. If someone is racist, sexist, or harming marginalized groups of people by using power, then my limits for empathy shrink. However,  fighting shouldn’t be our first response to an opposing viewpoint. Personal stories and personal beliefs carry a lot of weight, and understanding why someone believes what they do could be the first step to eventually changing their minds. After all, they may simply believe what Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow told them. 

Out of the gate, we need to know what to expect for this year; we need to understand how important it is for all of us. Let’s seek to understand, be more empathetic, and think about what’s best for our community collectively rather than individually. And if none of that works, then we can fight. 

January 2, 2024

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