HETRICK: As a new decade dawns, could we start again?

December 26, 2009

Ten years ago this week, a new century dawned.

Our nation was at peace. Our economy hummed. Job growth soared. Excitement abounded. Hope prevailed.

How content were we? Well, our most-publicized concern in December 1999 was that the so-called “millennium bug” would mess up our computers.

Didn’t happen.

And peace was shattered on Sept. 11, 2001—just 21 months into the new century. And prosperity plummeted into recession. And job openings ceded to unemployment lines. And millennial excitement bowed to massive malaise. And hope gave way to fear.

Now, as we enter yet another decade, deep in a winter of discontent, we have plenty to worry about.

Yet as we mark the winter solstice, as the ball drops at Times Square, as another decade dawns, I’m reminded of a tune from “Jesus Christ Superstar”: “Could We Start Again, Please?”

Life, unlike kindergarten, doesn’t come with “do-overs.” But it does come with “start overs.” And there’s no time like the presence of a new season, a new year or a new decade (or all three) to start again. Please.

So what would you like to begin anew?

Will you focus within or on relationships with others?

On your personal life or professional?

On things spiritual or things secular?

On matters material or matters of the heart and mind?

On your household, your neighborhood, your community, your nation, our world or beyond?

Will you focus only on what you can start over individually, or will you join with others to address issues of mutual interest?

One more question: Will you give other people and organizations the chance to clear the slate and start over, too? Tiger Woods? Bernie Madoff? A corrupt public official? Political opponents? A just-out-of-jail criminal? How far will your forgiveness-for-a-fresh-start go?

Of necessity, ours is a world of reparation. Out of ignorance, compromise, neglect, procrastination or wrongdoing, something goes awry. Learning of the error and repercussions—through new knowledge, better understanding, the passage of time or the benefits of experience—we try to prevent further damage, reverse course or make amends.

We learn that species are endangered. So we safeguard their habitats and encourage mating.

We learn that smoking sickens and kills. So we help smokers quit and keep their smoke away from others.

We see our health “system” and its high prices threaten jobs, families and society. So we try to reform how health care is delivered and what it costs.

We see banking and securities abuses threaten our economy. So we tighten regulations.

We see climate change threaten lives, livelihoods and health. So we try to address the manmade causes.

In short, no matter how informed our hindsight, we tinker, adjust, adapt, repair.

But rarely do we say, “Knowing what we know now, would we allow this to happen in the first place and, recognizing that, could we forego the tweaking and start over?”

That’s not always possible, of course. Sometimes—as with climate change—we’ve dug the hole too deep. But often, starting over makes more sense than additional compromise, half-baked remedies, further procrastination and more self-deluding rationalizations.

If you are obese, for example, you can start over now by eating less and exercising more.

If you are paying too much for a multi-layered government designed for a horse-and-buggy world, your legislators can start over now with a system that makes sense for contemporary society.

If you know that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death, your legislators can start over now by eliminating addictive additives so it’s easier for smokers to quit, and by banning smoking in public so no one’s affected but smokers.

If you know additional highway lanes encourage sprawl and cripple communities, your elected officials can start over now by moving the money into smarter forms of transportation.

So what will you start again?

If your business is struggling, will you tinker with your unsuccessful formula or start over with a new strategy?

If your elected officials don’t do what you want, will you continue whining or will you work hard to start over with someone new (even you!)?

If your salary and benefits have been cut, will you simply wait around for someone else to restore the diminished business, or will you help your organization and co-workers start over by pursuing new revenue streams yourself?

If you’re unhappy with someone in your life, will you give them the silent treatment and wait them out or will you start over by initiating conversations and building bridges?

It’s a new season. A new year. A new decade. And, if you choose, a new community. A new nation. A new economy. A new world. A new you.

Could we start again, please?•


Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


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