Eight percent. That’s the percentage of people who actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Every year, millions vow to change or improve something in their lives for the coming year. It’s a tradition that endures even with its low success rate and surrounding skepticism. But, it makes sense. A new year is a new start, a clean slate and a hopeful beginning. It’s a new year that has the potential to be better than the year before, so we make resolutions to ensure the potential. If you are one of the few who can stick with it, even better.

This year feels different. In hindsight, 2016 seems like a terrible year. The past few months have seen shocking change after change around the world: the enduring crises in the Middle East, fatal shootings and violence in the United States and changing political landscapes around the world. Simply, change has been frequent and unnerving in 2016. Social media has been filled with statuses, tweets and, of course, memes commenting on just how bad 2016 was and a seeming readiness to enter 2017. Yet, this type of commentary, which many have likely seen on Twitter feeds and in Instagram posts, is blaming 2016’s problems on 2016. But aren’t we actually to blame?

More often than not, New Year’s resolutions are based more on our personal lives and less on what’s going on in the world. This is most evident in the popular resolution to exercise more, a resolution that results in a massive gym rush in the weeks following New Year’s. Resolutions always seem to be individual and insular. They are about improving our own lives and are derived from sayings like “New year, new me.”

With this type of thinking, New Year’s resolutions take on a sense of selfishness, a selfishness we are all prone to. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why they fail. As the 8 percent shows, these types of personal resolutions aren’t typically followed through on, which means the packed gym eventually dwindles down to its normal crowd. So, if resolutions are supposed to be about improving the coming year, maybe we shouldn’t focus simply on ourselves. Perhaps a new kind of resolution is needed.

A few years back, my high school English teacher showed our class Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” This TED Talk eventually became one of the most watched of its kind. Over break, I decided to re-watch it and was reminded of just how powerful words are. And just as most TED Talks do, the speech made me really think. Originally given in 2009, its message of assumption and acceptance is one that, in light of recent events, felt more fitting than ever. Adichie, who was born in Nigeria, talks about her experience with stereotypes throughout her life and how the single story or stereotype is a mark and perpetuation of a power which disregards so much.

Adichie explains how important and prominent storytelling is in our lives, whether we realize it or not. We learn from talking to each other, from hearing about different experiences, which ultimately add to our own. A “single story,” however, is detrimental. Instead of creating human connections, a single story dissolves them.

With the recent election and crises around the world, division seems more apparent than ever. On our own campus, our own microcosm of the world, we have felt the divisiveness. Posters, petitions and protests, along with a rise in hate crimes post-election, have formed from stereotyping those who don’t agree with us. It then creates a division that at its root comes from assumption, stereotyping and ultimately the “single story.”

After watching the TED Talk last week, I got rid of my original and admittedly selfish resolution and instead decided on a new one: Work to prevent the single story and stray from accepting it. After all, stereotypes are almost like a heuristic — it’s a short cut and a defense mechanism for many. Yet, its dangers were exemplified by many events in 2016 and as Adichie so eloquently said, “When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Talk about how horrible 2016 was is warranted. But blaming it on something as intangible as four numbers is not. It was a rough year, it was a divisive year, but if we make resolutions on improving ourselves for the next year, then why not gear them toward improving things around us? New Year’s resolutions seem to be about the individual, and they often fail. So maybe, just maybe, a resolution that is for more than just ourselves can have a better success rate. I know my resolution is ambitious, but maybe it will be easier and more worthwhile than going to the gym every day.

Anu Roy-Chaudhury can be reached at anuroy@umich.edu. 

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