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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

The 2023 year of language

This beginning of a new semester at Notre Dame coincides with the beginning of the calendar year. While my friends know (perhaps more than they’d like) of my opinions about how we don’t emphasize Advent enough in the church liturgical calendar, the secular New Year provides just as solid an opportunity for introspection, reflection and resolution.

But how slippery human resolve can be! As anyone who has given up on dry January or cancelled a new gym subscription can tell you, intentions established on Jan. 1 do not necessarily lead to actions taken on Jan. 2, 3 or 4. It was with this problem in mind that CGP Grey put out a YouTube video to address the pitfalls of making New Year's resolutions. For those who don’t know, CGP Grey is an educational YouTube channel that goes in depth on the most random assortment of things — everything from politicking at the Supreme Court (which has obvious appeal to a law student like myself) to the superiority of the hexagon (which though not at all related to the law nonetheless is oddly appealing as well). I generally enjoy his videos, and I highly recommend them to the intellectually curious. About this time two years ago, Grey put out another in his eclectic collection titled “Your Theme.” Its premise was simple enough: instead of developing a New Year’s resolution that is oriented toward a goal, such that failure to meet that goal is taken as an understanding that the resolution itself failed, we should instead develop New Year’s resolutions surrounding a particular theme. One example he gives is that instead of shooting for X pounds of weight loss in Y years, one could instead dub 2023 the “Year of Health.”  

I, however, take the view that Grey’s suspicion of goal-oriented resolutions is only partially warranted. Sure, New Year’s resolutions that are metrically measurable can lead one to conclude that he or she has “failed” for not having met the metric, but by the same token, the very same metric can show me that I am “succeeding” at my New Year’s resolution if my relevant metric is being met. There are pros and cons to Grey’s central point here. However, a different point issue Grey pins down in that YouTube video is one I hope to adapt to my own life circumstances: themes can and should be broad. For Grey, this is because a broad theme gives one flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances without having missed a metric and thus “failed” a resolution. I think there’s a simpler case to be made: broad themes give us a wider capacity to brainstorm ways to do things that are on theme.

I’ll use an example to explain what I mean: I’ve chosen “Year of Language” as my 2023 theme. Right now, I have three things in mind that I mean to be doing to stay on theme. The first is that I hope each day of 2023 to make some forward progress on the goal of learning French. I was blessed with the opportunity to join the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir towards the end of last semester, and while it is only a possibility that I may accompany Team LC on tour to Paris this spring break, I have had other additional reasons to want to learn French for a long time. While I was at Michigan State University for undergraduate, I was involved with their Canadian Studies Center, gaining a unique perspective on Canadian politics from many of the top movers and shakers. As edifying as those experiences were, some of them were held back by the fact that I lacked even a rudimentary knowledge of French. This, then, is something that I hope to rectify in 2023, at least in some small part.

But the wonderful thing about a broad theme is that “Year of Language” does not boil down to French. I’ve written previously about my shortwave radio listening hobby, and one of the things I’ve often thought about doing is learning more about radio transmission and telegraphy. Knowing Morse code would be exceptionally helpful for the task, so in this themed 2023 Year of Language, I intend to “use Morse code for things,” which of course implies learning Morse Code in the first place as a prerequisite. As a staunch Android partialist, an app called Morse Mania has been a godsend as I embark on that endeavor, and one way that I’ve been able to put this newfound knowledge to practical use is by installing a different app called BuzzKill that I’ve been able to program to have people’s texts buzz my phone in Morse code so I know who’s trying to contact me without having to look at my phone. If I keep this up, here too the 2023 Year of Language will be a true success.

Lastly, Year of Language encompasses not just what we say to other people (or how we say it for that matter) but also what we say to God and how we listen to him in turn. One of the reasons I felt drawn to Year of Language as my 2023 theme was that it gave me the opportunity to really hone in and reflect on my prayer life. This year, I look forward to opportunities to expand my prayer horizons by engaging with devotions that have only ever been in my periphery. As to things like adoration and the Divine Office that I know exist but do not tend to utilize in my prayer life? I think this year may be the time to try some of those and see what sticks. If exploration of different avenues of prayer leads me to a new way of prayer or two that I really enjoy, then the 2023 Year of Language will be three for three.

So whether it’s a foreign tongue like French, a different means of communicating information like Morse code or a different conduit for building a relationship with our Heavenly Father, I think “Language” is capacious enough to contain them all and whatever other such similar opportunities I haven’t even thought about yet. I truly look forward to seeing just what the 2023 Year of Language will bring! I hope this column might inspire you to make a late themed resolution of your own. If you take me up on this, I’d love to hear about it; my email is in my byline!

Devin Humphreys is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. When he isn't serving as the sacristan at the Law School Chapel, singing with the Liturgical Choir or Chorale, or competing at a quiz bowl tournament, he's sharing his thoughts on the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. For advice on law school, hot takes on Mass music, and free scholarly publication ideas, reach out to Devin at or @DevinJHumphreys on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.