Two guide posts for 2018

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  Lots of people do.  I don’t anymore. Instead, I make an inventory of myself for the previous year to see what I did that worked and what I did that didn’t work.  Then, I determine what moral virtues played the biggest part in making me feel good about myself. Consistently, year after year, the virtues of humility and thanksgiving are at the top.  This week’s column is my take on both of them.
To me, humility and thanks- giving are the gateway virtues because they open the door to all other virtues and to a contented life.  They strip out pretense, pride, and lead to truth about one’s life.  They lead to genuineness.
There are four elements of humility.  First, humility is the admission that we don’t know it all. We are teachable.  We are all learners – whether we are 2 or 92 years old.  Walking the path of self-improvement is a life-long journey.  It doesn’t end when we graduate, when we reach the top level in our jobs, or when we retire.  We don’t want to become that old dog that can’t be taught new tricks.
Second, humility is realizing that so much of life is out of our control. We may control our efforts, but not the results.  We can contribute to our health, safety, and success, but we can’t control their ultimate outcomes.
Third, humility is the giving up, or at least minimizing, our own self-centered will. It means that we can accept       life on its terms, not ours.  It means to be open-minded about new ideas, ways of doing things, and the opinions of others.  It means to grow up; we are not supposed to be children – when everything then was defined as I or my – anymore.
Fourth, humility is being totally honest with and about ourselves. Although sometimes painful, shedding denial and accepting the truth about ourselves are the keys to the freedom and peace we long for.  In Hamlet, Shakespeare said:  “To thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou cannot be false to any man.”
Like humility, thanksgiving has four elements. First, thanksgiving is living in the present. It is not brooding over things that went wrong in the past or fearing what will happen in the future.  We have no control over the past and only limited control over the future.
Second, thanksgiving is being positive rather than negative about life. Instead of fretting over what we don’t have and wishing our lives were different, it is more instructive to think about what we are doing with what we do have.  Instead of resenting the hand life dealt us, we can accomplish more by being thankful for the opportunity to play that hand to the best of our abilities.
Third, thanksgiving is being aware of the good things, little or big, that we take for granted each day – perhaps the house we live in, the job we have been given to do, or even a safe trip to and from an errand we went on.  There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi who was hoeing his garden one day.  A passerby asked him what he would do if the world was going to end that day.  St. Francis replied:  “Finish hoeing my garden.”
Fourth, thanksgiving is seeing a silver lining in every cloud.  Life seldom goes exactly as we plan. Dealing with challenges can make us stronger. Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, said:  “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”