Back in 45 BC, Julius Caesar realized that the existing Roman calendar based on the lunar cycle, was badly out of sync with the seasons, so relying on the best astronomical advice available at that time, he reformed it on the basis of a 365 and ¼ day solar year. He also proclaimed January 1 to be the start of the year, and it has been so ever since in most of the world.
Choosing January 1 as the start of a new year was a totally arbitrary choice of course. Selecting one of the equinoxes or solstices would have probably made more scientific sense, however January 1 stuck and has now become totally established in our cultural and traditional practices.
The human psyche is predisposed to follow cycles and patterns and having a defined yearly cycle provides a certain measure of stability and comfort as we navigate the trials and tribulations of life. It provides us with a convenient yardstick by which we measure our progress both individually and collectively. As each new year dawns, we reflect upon the events of the past year, take stock of our successes and failures, draw a virtual line in the sand, and make plans for improving ourselves in the year to come.
I too have settled into this pattern, and as 2017 draws to a close, I cannot help but reflect on all the events and developments that have shaped my life over the past twelve months. I tend to be of an optimistic frame of mind, so I naturally focus on the positives first and foremost.
In that respect, I consider myself to be a fortunate man indeed. I have a delightfully close and warm relationship with my extended family,t which has expanded in recent years with the arrival of grandchildren, as close to a miracle as one can get in our earthly existence. They have resurrected within me the joy and appreciation that only youthful exuberance, curiosity and innocence can bring.
My circle of friends has expanded considerably, partly through direct acquaintance, and partly through the wonders of modern technology. Through the Internet, Facebook, Skype and other such digital media, I am able to interact with far more people than I ever could in decades past, regardless of where they may be on this shrinking planet of ours. I am particularly gratified by the ever-expanding circle of readership of this weekly column of mine, both in physical print and its digital offspring. I am both touched and amazed that my literary ramblings find a resonance with people throughout the world. It reinforces my belief that at heart, we human beings hold many more things in common than any differences that may try to separate or divide us. As always, knowledge and communication are key, and it inspires me to continue my writing as my own little contribution towards bringing people closer together.
2017 has also been a difficult and disappointing year in many ways as well. The hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine continues to bring death and destruction to innocent people, all because a medieval tyrant in Moscow harbors a strong desire to resurrect what history and most civilized people know was a reactionary and ghastly empire that embodied nothing but evil for centuries. His ugly tentacles are at work everywhere, trying to destabilize Europe, the Middle East and even the United States.
South of our border, the U.S., once recognized as the leader of the free world, has turned into a divisive, polarized nation, shorn of many of its founding principles and morality. To make things worse, it is led by a President who embodies more of the worst rather than the best of what once made America a role model for the world to follow.
Canada has regrettably not escaped some of the trends being shown by our southern neighbours. Our politics too has become infected with the kind of no holds barred, mud slinging and polarizing tactics we see increasingly not only in the U.S., but also Europe and other parts of the world. Politics is supposed to be a competition of ideas and policies, carried out within the framework of rational and civilized debate. Instead, it is increasingly become a war aimed not so much at espousing a certain ideology, as in destroying your opponents by whatever means possible, fair or foul.
Regrettably, the Internet and its digital media apps have become prime enablers of this, with a growing barrage of distorted or “fake news”, slander, lies, factual manipulation and virulent ad hominem attacks, meant not to inform but to incite hate and division. Putin and the Russians have become masters at this, but there is no shortage of otherwise normal and rational people in Canada and elsewhere that have been caught up in this trend and become unknowing collaborators in sowing mistrust, anger and xenophobia.
And yet, I am not dissuaded or depressed by what has happened. I am confident in the basic goodness and smarts of the majority of my fellow human beings, who, despite many ups and downs, eventually find the right answers and the right way to keep civilization moving forward. I hope the new year brings you too much cause to be optimistic and hopeful for the future.