Less than a week before Christmas, I received a double-barreled dressing down.

In a moment of high stress, I said something I should not have in a tone that I should not have used.

It set the recipient off.

I got an earful over the phone, followed up with a long text message to drive home the point that I can be a condescending, disrespectful, arrogant jerk.

A sincere apology was demanded, to which I declined to comply as much out of principle as stubbornness. An apology delivered on request, in my observation, is rarely sincere since it is not being offered as a spontaneous gesture of true remorse but rather the result of a deliberate calculation as the simplest way to put an unpleasantness behind. Maybe it’s OK to demand apologies from children whose behavior you are trying to shape, but the only apologies worth having from adults are those that come free of coercion.

Nevertheless, once I got past being defensive and attributing the outburst more to my critic’s faults than to my own, the confrontation left me troubled. You don’t get a tongue- or text-lashing like that without there being probably some truth to what prompted it.

All of which brings me to contemplating the new year and a chance to turn a new leaf.

Some years I make New Year’s resolutions, some years I don’t. The usual futility of the exercise — most resolutions never survive past the first few weeks — make it seem like a contrived attempt at commitment.

It’s extremely difficult for people to change their ways — and not just whether they smoke or drink or eat too much. It’s just as difficult to break a bad attitude as it is a bad habit. Some would say it’s impossible, that we are who we are and the quicker that everyone accepts that, including ourselves, the better off everyone will be.

But that’s not completely true either. Although most addicts don’t reform, some do. Some quit cold turkey, never to partake again. Some wean themselves off the drink or substance that has made their life miserable, backsliding along the way before eventually reaching consistent sobriety.

If such a transformation can happen for people whose brains have been altered by alcohol or drugs to the point that nothing matters more than the next drink or pill, surely it can happen for people who are moody or rude or insensitive.

The toughest of the seven sacraments for Roman Catholics is that of reconciliation, or what is more commonly known as confession. It is estimated that only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession to tell their sins to a priest and seek absolution. Three-quarters of Catholics never go, or go less than once a year — the minimum that church doctrine says is required from the faithful.

One reason the sacrament has reportedly fallen into disfavor is the clergy sex-abuse scandals, including allegations that the confessional became a conduit of infidelity and pedophilia. Not counting those scandals, it can be uncomfortable to acknowledge your deepest failings to another human being, even one pledged to confidentiality and who is acting as a surrogate for Jesus Christ. You also can become jaded about confession in the same way that you can become jaded with New Year’s resolutions. Both might make you feel better initially, but soon you’re dispirited as you revert back to committing the same sins or making the same mistakes you had resolved to stop.

Near the end of reconciliation, the person doing the confessing is asked to make an act of contrition. The one I committed to memory as a child concluded like this: “I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.”

In the next few days, people the world over will be asking themselves how they hope to amend their life in 2020.

Some will have grand ideas, most of them having to do with ways to make themselves more physically healthy or improve their home life.

If you’re a smoker or problem drinker and a New Year’s resolution provides the motivation to stop, then by all means, make that resolution.

Same for those who are planning to eat healthier, lose weight, get out of debt and spend more time with family.

My resolutions, when I make them, tend to be more modest in number and ambition.

For 2020, I’m going with what I texted back to my harsh critic: “I will try to do better.”

I’m not certain that I can do better. I am a bit set in my ways, a product of what I was born with, how I was raised and the experiences I have had, for good and for bad.

But I can try to change. The effort is doable, even if the result may be doomed.

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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