The British writer and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.”

Each year, news organizations use this week between Christmas and New Year to review the year ending and, in some instances, to predict the year to come. Predictions are a fool’s errand. They seldom generate anything except laughs for future generations who stumble upon them.

And yet, while predictions are impossible to do accurately, they are, at the same time, reliably within our power to control. By definition, the future will be decided by millions of decisions regular people make each and every day. 

You have the power, to a large extent, to determine what you will become in 2023. Unforeseen events may impose themselves, but you still have the freedom to decide how to react to these. And to some extent, your choices will affect others — sometimes in ways of which you will be unaware.

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Scientists have been hard at work lately proving that Lewis knew what he was talking about. Two researchers, one from the University of Texas and the other from the University of Chicago, conducted research recently using groups of people who performed random acts of kindness. Scientific American reported that people on the receiving end of these acts tended to want to extend similar kindnesses to other strangers, expanding the goodness exponentially. 

On the other end of the scale, Americans are all too familiar with the “copycat” aspect of crime, in which one horrible act of hatred leads to other, similar actions throughout the country. This “compound interest” of evil tends to receive much more media attention than the quieter, more modest interest of kindnesses and charity. But the latter is just as real, and more powerful than we imagine most people realize. You get to decide each day which sort of trend to set in motion.

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You won’t have to look hard to find problems with the year that is passing. Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine may top the list, with its widespread death and misery. Vladimir Putin’s decisions had the world on edge, even as the West rallied and coalesced and Sweden and Finland petitioned for NATO membership. 

The year saw its share of horrific mass shootings, from a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, to a WalMart in Virginia to the unspeakable horror of massacred schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas

Economic uncertainty reigned, including stubborn inflation, interest-rate hikes and questions about a looming recession despite a persistently tight labor market. Politics, with its inherent nastiness, dominated much of the year, culminating in an election that gave the United States a divided Congress. The Supreme Court returned abortion decisions, and the protests surrounding them, to statehouses, and the COVID-19 pandemic raged on while much of the nation learned to ignore it. (By this week, new cases were roughly at the same level as in January, while deaths were down considerably, according to worldometer.info.)

In Utah, a persistent drought had many worried about climate change and the future of the Great Salt Lake, even as December snowfall has been plentiful.

And yet amid all the suffering and uncertainty, the James Webb telescope gave the world glimpses of deep space and the endless beauty of creation that dazzled the imagination.

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It was, in other words, a year like many others, with bad and good. It was a year of individual choices, especially manifest through democratic process, but also in many other ways, as well.

One story in particular caught our attention. The Associated Press, in its look at the year, made mention of what it called “the rudeness pandemic.” It noted research by Georgetown researcher Christine Porath, who found that incivility was on a tear in ’22, continuing a decadeslong trend. She found that people were turning on “frontline workers in health care, retail, transportation, hospitality and education.”

Few other trends evoke the words of Lewis so effectively. The “little decisions you and I make each day” surely include how to respond to people whose jobs involve helping others. 

Do you want to make a difference in the world? You alone have enormous control over this one. As Lewis said, and as researchers are proving, your decision on how to treat others will have “infinite importance” as to how the world feels in 2023.