Naturally, we will all begin 1989 with the best of intentions, making mental promises to complete projects and reach goals we lost sight of in the previous year.
This includes resolutions related to the workplace, whether it means being kinder to a secretary, seeking a higher position in the company or starting that ever-elusive special project.Throughout history, books have been written about how to behave and how to strive for improvement, both personally and within an organization. It might prove useful to look at one of the oldest lists of "resolutions," one that influenced some of the writings in the Old Testament.
This was the Counsels of Wisdom, Babylonian writings that could date from anywhere between 1800 and 1000 B.C. They contain moral precepts for behavior, including those involving lawsuits, women and libel - all topics of interest once people pass through the company door.
The best way to avoid a lawsuit, according to the Babylonian text, is to avoid becoming a participant in one:
"Do not frequent a law court, do not loiter where there is a dispute, for in the dispute they will have you as a testifier, then you will be made their witness, and they will bring you to a lawsuit not your own to affirm."
The Counsels also enjoined the reader to avoid initiating a lawsuit: "Should it be a dispute of your own, extinguish the flame!" Since the law courts were deemed to be corrupt at times, this was a logical piece of advice.
The admonitions against cavorting with loose women could also apply to loose men, and many a worker has been stung by an office romance that buzzed its way into oblivion. Worse, having to continue working with or near that person can make life miserable.
"In your trouble she will not support you," wrote the Babylonian writer. "Even if she dominates your house, get her out, for she has directed her attention elsewhere."
Rumors and gossip are office favorites, often to the detriment of those targeted for storytelling. The Babylonians had problems with such talk:
"Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report. Do not say evil things, speak well of people. One who utters libel and speaks evil, men will waylay him with the retribution of (God). Beware of careless talk, guard your lips."
As if to suggest practicing the art of self-control, the Counsels command the reader "not to utter solemn oaths while alone, for what you say in a moment will follow you afterwards. But exert yourself to restrain your speech."
Most important, the Counsels suggest a constant vigil when it comes to keeping resolutions. "In your wisdom study the tablet," the text said. "Reverence begets favor."
As we enter the new year and recognize our professional and personal shortcomings, it's not a bad idea to list those attributes that could use some improvement.
After all, we can consult television guides and menus daily. A moment or two with a group of "work resolutions" might make our working hours a little more pleasant and productive.
Ask any Babylonian.
***Mark R. Horowitz is a Chicago-based communications consultant and historian.