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The Daily Tar Heel

Endeavor to Understand Yourself

We make one resolution or many, which if we follow them through will make us better.

Rarely can the past be wiped away so easily.

The new year is a time to form new habits -- good habits -- and still it is the end of a time, the chance to scrap an old you and me, pieces of ourselves, or habits we didn't mean to make - old resolutions we never carried out.

The new year is a time for, as Robert Frost wrote in the poem "Birches," "going and coming" or put simply, for ending and beginning again.

We all share the ability to change, to perform some act or acts that will, conceivably, make us better.

Yet what one person resolves to do in order to become better differs greatly from what the next decides.

The thing is, while we all try to make ourselves better, what better actually means from one person to the next is rather different.

What might be right for you, the saying goes, might not be right for some.

For example, a person who is out of shape might resolve to become fit.

Good fitness, one thinks, shall consequence if not good health than at least its illusion, or in other words, a sense of betterment.

A person in good physical shape might resolve instead to better oneself by practicing the virtues of temperance, order and frugality.

The first person's idea of betterment is rooted wholly in the physical.

The second is more concerned with a state of mind, with approaching life with a renewed sense of discipline.

Each person wants to be better, but what better actually entails, and what it takes to become better to each, is dissimilar.

That people are in essence different, I realize, is an unremarkable observation.

But I make the point to preface another.

Humans, aside from always wanting what they don't have, even that which they once had and have forsaken, share with one another the unique problem of shifting attitudes.

Even within us are there divides as to what is right or wrong, or what kinds of things or activities are better than others.

Just last year I resolved to live simply, to reduce the amount of things I carried around with me, to in effect have the ability to leave on a moment's notice, to know that the only thing of value I possessed was the freedom of having the choice to be free.

I threw out half my stuff.

I burned candles, read books, walked in bare feet.

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I rolled around in the grass, played catch, didn't mind whether it was 2 p.m. or Tuesday.

But eventually I had to come back to reality. All of the old ideals returned: goals, the fight for money and status.

I couldn't wait to buy a new disc or get a burner.

I loved my new car.

I asked for a big house and many nice things.

I ate well.

I drank.

I filled myself with all I'd purposefully lacked, asking myself why I'd ever resolved to forgo those things.

The way things were arranged it all made sense.

I wasn't happy having to go without, with being simple.

I was clinging to ideals, ideals I'd thought about, talked over, written upon -- ideals, no less, in which I believed.

But the ideals, put to the test, couldn't hold with the reality of the situation.

I am a product of the world in which I live, no matter what I think, no matter what I profess to believe to myself, to others or to the page.

I cannot escape the force of this reality.

I marvel not only at our differences, at the innumerable divisions between you and I.

What puzzles me are the contradictions at the very heart of us, conflicts within each man and woman which must be addressed before the opinions of "I" can be matched against the opinions of "You."

Ours is a perilous quest toward betterment, perilous because what it is that constitutes better is undecided not only among us collectively, but within us each.

We must decide for ourselves about a thing and recognize that differences necessarily exist before we can interact with one another or even with ourselves in any reasonable manner.

Humans are filled, collectively, individually, with contradiction. It seems unlikely, in fact impossible, that any of us or we as a whole shall become consistent or even resolve to do so.

What I mean, in short, is perhaps we should dismiss the notion of interacting reasonably with one another, since we are for the most part unreasonable beings.

None of us is better than any other with respect to any thing, for there is no agreement as to what constitutes better with respect to any thing in any circumstance.

Thus I resolve, being a material thing, a product of my time, my place, of a people, to be.

This year like any other, I resolve simply to be, that I might discover who the "I" is before I decides whether it can be improved.

It's a jump-start on next year. It's a start.

Paul Tharp is a first-year law student. Reach him at

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