The new year sparks contemplation of the word new.
So the year is new, but what else? Monday still follows Sunday, January still follows December. The days roll into each other without any notable variance. Today looks almost exactly like yesterday; it’s still winter, still below freezing, and my dogs still do not want to stay outside more than the necessary few minutes. The holidays are ending and work is resuming, as they always do. None of this is new.
As I sought to apply new to something today—since the usual and very regular passing of time really should not count—I got the mental image of the word new on a dictionary page. This led me to do something paradoxical: I moved a chair over to one of my bookcases, pulled down a heavy volume, blew off the dust (alas!), and snapped the above photo of the definition in The New Century Dictionary.
I say paradoxical because that dictionary, despite its title, is hardly new. It was published in 1952. The original copyright is 1927.
The dictionary and the definition are old indeed. I know there are better, far more concise definitions of new in online dictionaries now.
Why, then, turn to something so old to examine the meaning of new?
Well, first of all, I needed an image for this post and that’s the one that came to mind.
And I love old books, old things in general. Any vintage artifact holds great appeal to me, mostly because of the invisible layers of story wrapped around it. I never tire of stories of long ago. I am endlessly fascinated by how people survived and how resourceful they were, often with so little.
In fact, resourceful was nearly my chosen word for 2018, because of this definition on Dictionary.com:
able to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations, difficulties, etc.
And this one, at LearnersDictionary.com:
able to deal well with new or difficult situations and to find solutions to problems.
Resourceful seemed well-suited to my role as educator, instructional coach, and for life as a whole, really.
Then I realized that the thing that stood out to me in both of these definitions of the worthy word resourceful, aside from its emphasis on excellent problem-solving, is that one word, new. Coping with new and difficult situations.
Suddenly resourceful, for all its allure, was overshadowed. Do you remember the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy explained the demise of the Wicked Witch of the West? “Please sir, we’ve done what you told us. We brought you the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West. We melted her!” To which the Wizard replies (one of my favorite lines): “Oh, you liquidated her, eh? Very resourceful!” But remember Dorothy’s intent: When she threw that bucket of water on the Witch she was saving the Scarecrow, who was on fire. She didn’t mean to melt the Witch, or even think Hmmm, what would happen if I doused the Witch with water?
Resourceful, yes—in saving the Scarecrow. Dorothy’s use of the water was intentional. It implies thinking and quick action to solve a problem. Resourceful in her mission of getting rid of the Witch? No. That was a stroke of amazing luck.
I really wanted to write this post about being resourceful for my fellow educators who often work with so little, in adverse situations, to encourage all of us to be more mindful, intentional, and creative with what we have to reach intended outcomes, when it occurred to me that something else is needed before any of this can happen.
Something different from anything preceding, something only lately or now seen, encountered, experienced, or used for the first time . . .
Something new, in the face of the same old same old.
If you look back at the photo for this post, you’ll see the morning light spilling across the old dictionary page, illuminating the word new.
And that’s exactly what is needed. Not new things or resources themselves, but light. Seeing things, situations, people in a new light.
My wish for students is that they see their learning in a new light, with excitement, with inspiration. For that to occur, their teachers, my colleagues and I, must see our work with new excitement and inspiration, pushing past layers of compliance, of going through the motions, of saying We can’t, because . . . .
Think of variations of new: renew, anew. Newness is generated. It is created. It starts with really seeing, then taking a step, even just one, out of the comfort zone, to see what will happen, what might actually change. For the better.
Whoever you are, whatever you do, new starts within you and moves outward. One ray of light, one spark at a time . . . keep it up, and there’s no telling how far the light will travel, and how much more will become new. We can’t change people (ever tried?). We can’t always change situations. Some old things will remain, and sometimes that’s good, for every new thing that comes along isn’t. But we can have new perspective, new vision, new vigor, new approaches. All of these are within our own power. A true and valuable new is both possible and attainable, if we aspire to it. If we dare.
That is my prayer for this new year, that we make it truly new.