Instead of predicting what will, or even what might, occur in this new year, it might be useful to consider how we want the year to turn out and what we can do to make it so.

There is an element of resolution-making — and keeping — in all of this, but that’s because therein lies much of our own control over what will occur in 2020. If we want to lose weight or stop smoking or swearing, for instance, we’ll have to think and do some things differently than in the past.

Positive personal change can be plenty difficult. But with it comes a sense of accomplishment, pride and confidence, along with being healthier and better company. That’s a pretty good payoff.

But we can do much more good if we think a little bigger. A new year, or the start of a new decade (if that’s how you regard 2020) offers ample opportunities to get involved in matters larger than any single one of us. Some of the challenges, in fact, require collaboration to overcome, just as some of goals require team work to achieve.

These challenges and goals rarely call for heroic efforts, but they will take up some of your time and, in a few cases, some money. Fortunately, there’s something for everyone’s taste, whether it’s preserving the environment, fighting poverty, helping the elderly or rescuing abused animals.Local organizations in support of these and countless other causes exist; many need financial support as well as willing and able volunteers.

This also is a great year to become more involved in politics. In addition to electing a president, a U.S. senator and members of Congress, Kansans also will be voting on every member of the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives.

If you approve of those who represent you, vote for them. But do more; call them or their campaigns and ask how you can help. Similarly, if you disapprove of those who represent you, look for alternatives and offer your assistance to them. Or run for office yourself and make your case to voters.

The last three years have reminded us of the importance of holding our elected officials accountable. Follow the issues and attend meetings, and when issues of importance to you don’t get the attention you think they deserve, make our leaders aware of it. Speaking up is a precious American right. So is attending rallies or demonstrations with people who hold positions similar to yours. There’s no place for violence in such settings, but adding your voice to hundreds or thousands of others can lead to productive changes.

Who would have thought a Swedish teenager who cares about the the perils of climate change would make a speech at the United Nations, be named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” and spark an angry tweet-storm from inside the White House? Yet the young lady, Greta Thunberg, has inspired millions of people of all ages around the world to take their leaders to task for not sufficiently confronting the threat that climate change poses to life on our planet. That sort of pressure can make a huge difference.

Protecting the environment is a worthwhile cause, certainly, but it’s hardly the only one. Confronting bigotry is another one. Racism has long been a scourge in the United States, and as recent attacks against Jews and Muslims indicate, religious bigotry also thrives in our country.

Bigotry in any form is an evil that must be confronted, not just by our leaders but from all citizens of good will. It must be confronted in workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, on public playgrounds, on our streets — anywhere and everywhere. Public demonstrations against bigotry in its many forms are worthwhile, of course, but also important are the acts of individuals speaking up in social or job settings when a friend or co-worker says or does something discriminatory against a minority member.

None of these challenges can be overcome in a single year or even a decade. They’ve been around a long time and are deeply rooted. Overcoming them will only become more difficult unless decent citizens act. The more citizens who do, the greater the likelihood of making a positive difference.

Many of us make and break resolutions every January, and probably always will. That need not prevent us from committing ourselves to actions that will not only make us better citizens but also strengthen our country.

Walt Braun retired in 2017 as the Mercury’s editorial page editor.

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