New Year’s Resolution

New Yearrsquos Resolution

I often wait for the #43 bus on Beacon Street, across from the Massachusetts State House, and I stand right in front of the monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. On Boston Common near the corner of Beacon and Park Streets, it’s a beautiful sculpture by Saint-Gaudens portraying the commander and members of his regiment.

With the end of the year approaching and thoughts turning to New Year’s resolutions, let me propose that we resolve to live up to the aspiration expressed when the monument was dedicated. In his book The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand describes the dedication ceremony where William James painted this vision:

A great nation is not saved by wars. It is saved by ‘acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.’

We have strayed far in the 115 years since these words were spoken. But then, aren’t New Year’s resolutions almost always wildly optimistic?

By the way, I realize James talked about “men” back in 1897, but I’m willing to interpret that to mean “person.” Surely we need true men and true women as leaders.

Happy New Year!

updated: 6 months ago