Resolutions are popular this time of year. The etymology of the word falls back on ability to focus, or resolve something. Resolution is important in telescopes and microscopes and glasses, for that matter. It also ends up being important in our own lives, by helping us see things more clearly. When I look at New Years’ resolutions, focus is what’s on my mind.
Like most folks, I’ve made my share over the years. When I was a kid, there were several years in a row when I resolved to no longer tease my three sisters unmercifully. What gave me blurred vision is what to do if they teased me first? This one generally had a shelf life of less than a week…or if provoked, less than an hour.
In high school, there were some resolutions that sort of stuck, like not falling asleep in algebra or trying to shoot 200 jump shots a day. But the toughest ones always centered on trying to be nice to people who were different from me or openly hostile to me. There really weren’t many of these, since I cut a pretty pathetic figure at 6 foot 4 and 165 pounds, at least fifteen pounds of which were zits and tennis shoes, anxiety and sweat. Yes, anxiety actually has weight as a teenager. But I gradually managed a longer shelf life.
College was a different matter entirely. I was lucky enough to attend a school where all the students had pretty well been socialized to put in that extra effort to be tolerant or nice to everyone around them. What a fun place! It was here that I discovered a new law of physics (unofficial) that I took to calling the Seventh Law of Thermodynamics: Kindness divided by Unkindness = Happiness.
I found that this equation always held true; under any temperature or pressure, under any preexisting conditions. And even better, the amount of energy required to generate Kindness is much less than that required to generate Unkindness. Eureka! Of course, my college courses quickly squelched any idea I may have had that this equation was original. The old saying; ‘What goes around comes around ‘was essentially the same thing and without a numerator or denominator. Since I was at a church school, I ended up studying world religion and realized the Upanishads said basically the same thing over 5,000 years ago. So much for my burst of glory.
Knowing the Seventh Law, though, has really helped me since then. In med school and residency, almost every patient interaction went easier, smoother, and ended up with the correct diagnosis if I just made a trifle effort to be kind at the initial encounter. It took much more effort for me to concentrate on how tired I was, or how dirty or drunk the E.R. patient was, than to just smile and offer one kind word. Just one. Then, like magic, the dam bursts and the history comes out and I would know just what to do.
Since then, with all that important history (marriage and fatherhood), this time of year I try to keep the Seventh Law in mind. It really does take less energy to be kind. It really is easier to see the cup half full. And, selfishly, the right side of that equation, happiness, is something that most all of us want. It’s right there in front of us. Contemporary New Years’ resolutions seem to center pretty much on self improvement. “I’m going to lose weight”, or “I’m going to get in shape.” Laudable goals all. For my money, though, I’d like to see more resolutions centered on the Seventh Law. The personal stuff all flows from that. The bigger Kindness is, and the smaller Unkindness is, in that equation, the bigger Happiness is.
Concentrating energy away from self pays back exponentially. Something we all know intuitively. Something I try to remind myself about as often as possible, since I need the reminder too. Why is the Seventh Law thermodynamic? When I think about it, all of human interaction involves heat exchange of some kind. It always works best when flow goes both ways. At any rate, again this year that's what I'll be working on. Never getting it right, but always giving it a try. Let's rub our hands together and get to it!
-Dr. Richard Malotky
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