Amid the recent holiday hubbub and heightened terror alerts came advice from the Department of
Homeland Security that we should go about our business as usual and leave the worrying to the
This puzzled me. I was unaware of any training or certification through which one can become a
professional worrier. Indeed, this seems to be a field in which the amateur can muster feats that rival
those of anyone who frets for a living.
This time of year lends itself to caution. January was named for the Roman god Janus, a circumspect
character who was careful to look about himself before committing to a particular course of action. He
was the god of gates and doors and was associated with beginnings; the first hour of the day, the first
day of the month, and the first month of the year were sacred to him. The gates of his temple in the
Forum were closed in times of peace and opened in times of war. How do the gates stand, I wonder, in
these days of orange alert levels and cancelled airline flights? 'O tempora, o
mores!'1 lamented the orator Marcus Tullius Cicero as he surveyed
the craziness around him. I can only agree.
Thus 2004 arrives like a slap in the face with a dead fish. Every year it's the same thing. The days
of Christmas Joy give way to end-of-the-year Frivolity and Riotous Living, and we're left with a brief
Morning of Remorse when, prodded by the demon Hangover, we squint into the Mirror of Sobering Truth
and conclude that Something Must Be Done.
Hence the New Year's resolution. It's tempting to compare oneself to the kid down the block who is
amassing a fortune by trading stock options or the young twerp who is running a multi-national
corporation out of his university dormitory room. Depressing, no? But well-chosen resolutions can give
us a sense of control over our lives, and that's no small thing nowadays. Even seemingly minor changes
can provide satisfaction. Are you tired of the beauty industry telling you that you don't measure up?
Strike a blow for sanity: appreciate your uncooperative hair; refuse to worry whether or not your bum
looks too big. (This can take some doing in the US, home of Hollywood and Unrealistic Standards.) Sick
of being jerked around by certain large corporations? Don't buy their products. Your wallet will love
you. If you really want to stir up some dust, write to the CEOs and tell them why you're not buying
what they're selling.2 Want to feel as though you're part of the war on terror? Patch
your computer's software, and keep your anti-virus and firewall products up-to-date. Yes, really.
There are legions of spammers, hackers and cyber-terrorists looking to hijack unprotected computers.
Don't let them. And remind other computer users about this; make a real pest of
So here we sit at the beginning of January, watched over by the Roman god of dithering. Don't sweat
the small stuff, the mental health professionals tell us. Don't sweat the big stuff, says the Department
of Homeland Security. I say illegitimi non carborundum est4. Resolve to stay sane. Oh, and if that twerp in his university dormitory room
gives you an opportunity to invest in his company, do it. Your wallet will probably love you.