People in conversation

Setting New Year's Intentions for 2020

I have never liked the pressure of New Year's resolutions. Read more books, learn Spanish, go to the gym. Too easily made, too easily broken.

New Year's intentions, on the other hand, have the virtue of flexibility. I can return to an intention even if I haven't been able to practice it for weeks or months. Where a resolution can be broken, intentions persist. They let me be more generous with myself, and that might help me be generous with the other people in my life too.

With all that in mind, here are my (highly political) New Year's intentions for 2020. Maybe they'll inspire you to set your own!

Photo: New Year's fireworks

To see the individual in front of me.

When I find myself disagreeing with someone about a contested political issue—and there are more every single day!—I hear every partisan TV commentator, belittling meme, and irate Facebook post instead of the actual individual.

It's easy to lose myself in those competing voices, all of them eager to argue and quick to contradict, all analyzing the issue from a ten thousand foot perspective. But navigating our differences isn't a game of averages, it's a matter of instances.

Each person has a unique story to tell about their values and beliefs. This year, I intend to focus on filtering out those other voices so I can hear one person's story.

To foster my own curiosity.

I already know what the opposition thinks. I know their biases and blind spots, their falsehoods and mistakes. The internet, TV, and radio, my elected officials, sports analysts, and friends told me all about the other side. Right?

I've got strong political values. But to close off the possibility of engagement with different perspectives would be foolish. It won't serve me well and it will shut out the people in my life who hold different views.

Writ large, this mindset would be disastrous for our civic life. Democracy hinges on our ability to discuss different views, learn about different policies, and build coalitions of aligned interests. I can't do that if I'm shutting people down before I actually know what they think.

This year, I intend to foster a sense of curiosity in the ways I engage with different views. It doesn't mean I'm going to change my stances. But I can open myself to the possibility of knowing the people around me better and finding unexpected points of alignment.

To ask the question first.

This one's more practical. In every interaction—not just those that revolve around a difference—I want to begin with questions. I find it too easy to respond with a similar story, an opposed view, or a piece of advice.

I intend to ask more and better questions this year. Asking more questions will encourage my own curiosity and help me recognize the individual in front of me. And questions, I have learned in my time at EP, are all about design. Improvement requires practice.

Over time, good habits become virtues. I'm hoping that these three New Year's intentions will help me cultivate a few good habits that, eventually, become deeper virtues.

A writer, translator, and editor, Daniel Pritchard joins Essential Partners from MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, where as Senior Communications Associate he worked with some of the world's leading scholars and managed a diverse array of communications campaigns.