Year in Review, Year Ahead

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Every Christmas, for the few years that my brothers and I attended her Sunday school, Ms. Smith recounted the story of a little boy who, when asked to explain the significance of Christmas, said, “Christmas is a time when Daddy drinks and gets drunk.” Ms. Smith would recount this story with a stern face as she impressed upon our
five-, six- and seven-year-old minds the true meaning and spirit of Christmas, and the importance of living in that spirit. Ms. Smith has long gone, but every Christmas I recall her story. That invariably leads to another recollection — her response, once, to my mother’s inquiry about her health: “Well, my dear,” she said, “God is holding the sugar bag.” I was old enough then to understand that she was diabetic and that she trusted a higher power to do right by her. (In Guyana, we didn’t use the word “diabetic” to describe someone with that condition. Instead, we would say that person “has sugar.”)  

At the end of the year, or at the beginning of the new one, many businessowners and professionals reflect on the previous 12 months, recalling accomplishments, failures, game-changers and unfinished business. Recollection alone is not enough. There’s our responsibility for our future. So we delve into the whys and wherefores of what we recall and use these reflections to hone an outlook and plan of action for the year ahead. Each time we do this, we grow in wisdom, as George Bernard Shaw, 19th-century Irish playwright, Nobel Prize laureate and co-founder of the London School of Economics, would say. His words: “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

And from Charles Dickens via his character Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield, “It’s in vain, Trot, to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”

At the dawn of 2011, America is ill. There is tension all around and wisdom seems in short supply in “efforts” to heal the country and its economy. A coming together of fronts out of a sense of responsibility for the country’s present and future, honed by honest recollection and reflection, is sorely called for to lift us out of the economic and social morass that has weakened us in our own eyes and on the world stage. We’re in the market for a sustained positive swing in such key economic indicators as retail sales; manufacturers’ shipments, inventories and orders; residential and nonresidential construction and sales; personal income; and jobless claims. We’re in the market for a sustained upswing in reading, science and math performance and high-school graduation rates. But with gamesmanship calling the shots in federal, state and local governance, we may wallow in this morass for years.

My recollections of Ms. Smith by no means exemplify the recollections that work upon the present or that have bearing on responsibility for the future. Trivial though they may be, however, they, too, have value. I get a hearty chuckle from them and that leaves me with a good feeling. 

A few collective, hearty chuckles won’t hurt in diffusing the tension in America. The good feeling they produce may make it easier for us to come together to heal our condition that, frankly, is quite alarming. After all, who but ourselves holds America’s sugar bag?