Do you remember one of my solemn New Year resolutions? This may sound rather like a silly question. How can I remember your resolutions, you wonder, when I can hardly remember any of my own? Anyway, it is time to take stock, or 2018 may catch us unawares, miserably stuck in our perennial shackles of irresolution.
Just for the record, I resolved at the beginning of this year that I would plant at least 100 trees. I have not done too badly. I have so far planted, well — one tree! Do not laugh. You can see I have been trying. One tree is infinitely better than no tree at all.
Anyway, that pretty much sums up my performance with nearly all of my resolute 2017 resolutions. I will not bore you with details of the rest of my 1 percent-full glasses of my projects. But my one tree is a symbol of what we call optimism, and it is the best arm and armour with which to invade the New Year. I may not be able to plant all my remaining 99 trees before midnight tomorrow, and that is a shortcoming.
But tomorrow is only the end of the year. It is not the end of the world. Why should I mope and gripe about it? I will face the situation, laugh at the mistakes, learn from them and proceed with renewed vigour and determination.
Indeed, that is what I am going to do with my forest of 100 trees. (Do you remember Delano and Soyinka’s Forest of a Thousand Demons?). I am acknowledging the jeering and mockery of my tree and making a New Year resolution to plant 200 trees in 2018.
There, you have it, one of my four solemn New Year resolutions. Two others are that I will publish, and I will rally all my comrades to wage a concerted war for the survival of the Humanities in East Africa. The fourth resolution I will tell you about later.
Let me first share with you what I think is the art of making productive resolutions, using my own brave resolves as examples. The first step in resolution making is prioritisation. This is knowing what matters most to you. You decide to act on a state, habit or situation because it affects you and you want to make it better.
Secondly, be precise. Have I said this before? Anyway, “precise” is a word and concept that I love. When you resolve, be clear and concrete, pinpointing exactly what you want to do and how you are going to do it. Resolutions like “I will try and be a better and kinder person in 2018” are wishy-washy. If you want to improve your punctuality, for example, resolve in terms like: “I will keep time for all my appointments and never allow more than a minute’s delay on all of them.” There are no “ha-ha-has” here.
Thirdly, base your resolution on your ability to act. We all know that caustic saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intending and not doing is no good to you or to anyone. A good resolution is an actable and, even better, acted intention. So, as you resolve, have a plan of action.
To return to my own 2018 resolutions, planting trees matters to me because climate change is, in my opinion, still the most important issue in and around Planet Earth today. Planting a tree is a clear, concrete contribution to improving it. Moreover, I am capable of doing it, as my heroic 2017 performance clearly proves!
As for publishing, it matters a lot to me as I start the countdown to my 75th birthday. A time-hallowed truism in scholarship and academia is: “publish or perish”. We dinosaurs of this unforgiving domain understand this better than most. But “perishing” takes on a new significance for us wazee entering our twilight years.
Intentionally or unintentionally, we have accumulated a tremendous lot of experiences, impressions and ruminations in the course of our long sojourn. If we do not release to the public these scribbles of ours in some organised form while time and our ebbing energies allow, they might literally perish with us when, inevitably, we make the “last safari to Pagak”.
This became obvious to me in 2017 as I followed the ongoing debate among my literary colleagues about their discipline and the best approaches to it. Many of the points which my young friends are raising are similar to those I have been pondering over many decades, albeit in a less “dot-com” fashion than they.
As for the battle for the Humanities, the arts and the social sciences, my resolution is precisely a clarion call. I will mobilise, through talks, writing and social media interventions, all my colleagues and friends to note and oppose all threats and attacks on those disciplines which make us humans, rather than mere animals or machines.
This fight matters crucially today because there is a trend, especially in our educational systems, to stunt nearly all the human studies, like literature, language, history, religious studies or the performing arts. This onslaught, spearheaded by our policy makers, most of whom are actually humanities graduates, is said to be in favour of the “sciences” and marketable skills. But its actual effect is not only denying space and facilities to the humanities but also distorting our social awareness into assuming that being human and decent does not matter for our survival.
I nearly forgot to tell you about my fourth 2018 resolution. This matters a lot, is very precise and quite practicable. I will smile. It is good for me and, apparently, for all of those around me. Maybe you, too, can join me and add it to your list of resolutions.
Here then, with my sweetest smile, is wishing and all your beloved a Happy and Blessed New Year.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]