There are New Year’s resolutions, and there are New Year’s resolutions. As Judith O’Reilly, author of the newly published “A Year of Doing Good” told The Guardian UK, “There are mornings you wake up and think, ‘I'll have coffee instead of tea.’ And there are mornings you sweep open the curtains and announce ‘Today I'll be a better person.’ I had one of those.”
But this idea wasn’t the thunderbolt moment after a life spent in selfishness, or even simply a growing understanding that each of us can pay it forward. As O’Reilly says, it was the realization that her parents’ lives of service to others had shaped her view of the world, and that she had the opportunity to do the same for her own children. O’Reilly watched her parents – a part-time bank clerk, part-time grocer, and a mother who volunteered as a hospice cleaner and classroom assistant – quietly do good deeds into their 80s.
“My mother is 84 and my dad will be 80 soon, so their hectic days of good deedery are gone,” O’Reilly says. “But even when my mother lost her sight due to macular degeneration, she mourned for it, collected her white stick and promptly set up a support group to help others in the same situation.” They collected no rewards – just did what they think anyone should do.
So when O’Reilly announced to herself that she would do a good deed every day for a year, it was because she wanted to show her children this same thing – that doing good works is a part of everyday life.
In the book, she gives a (sometimes hilarious) account of a few of her 365 good deeds: teaching a disabled girl creative writing, mentoring a teenage college dropout, babysitting, clearing a dead mouse from a vegetarian’s mouse-trap, finding not one but two lost children, steaming and tagging secondhand clothes, feeding the hungry.
And when she thought she might not succeed, she simply thought about her kids. “When it got tough, I realized too late that I couldn’t stop because of the example it would set for the children.” Her good deeds, too, pulled her away from her family. “My daughter, then five, cried as I boarded a train to London for a shift in a soup kitchen,” she explains.
Will her year of doing good have an effect on her children’s lives, just as her parents’ powerful examples of service had on her? “Maybe they will only do one good deed that they otherwise might never have done. And that one good deed will make it all worthwhile.”
Have you made similar resolutions? What is the key to passing the torch of good works to your kids? Weigh in.