Resolving not to make the wrong resolutions

AS the New Year draws near, we all have our 1987 resolutions just about ready to engrave in stone, don't we? But before we command ourselves to be saints (next year!) one preliminary task remains: a sort of list before The List. This pre-list, short but emphatic, identifies certain popular but disastrous resolutions that shold not be promised as the bells ring out 1986. Here are three no-no examples:

Forbidden resolution No. 1: ``I will do whatever I must for the sake of national security.''

This, as everybody knows, was the most popular resolution among Washington officials in 1986. Fervent but vague, it boasts the classic attractions of a really bad resolution - and how badly it turned out!

As 1986 came to a close, ``national security'' in practice translated into something like this: ``I don't trust Congress or the American people to know what the Ayatollah, contra leaders, Swiss bankers, and Canadian businessmen can be trusted to know.''

Manipulated to the point of self-paraody, ``national security'' is a battered phrase that must be granted a long, long rest in all languages, except possibly Swahili.

Forbidden resolution No. 2: ``I will conduct my business as a frank and open pursuit in greed - which is what all business is about.''

Endorsed by Ivan Boesky in a speech before business school students, greed became in the private sector what national security was in the public sector: the preferred resolution of 1986. It, too, fell from grace to disgrace.

Beyond the lessons from the Boesky school of scandal, there have been the graduate courses in Japanese, instructing American automakers and others that the bottom line is never really the bottom line. Perhaps the next import should be a new copy book of Oriental maxims to be taught to the MBAs of tomorrow:

``Short-term profit leads to long-term loss.''

``Mergers produce nothing a hungry man can eat - only mergers, more takeovers. And more hunger.''

``Beware of cost accountants - the more the cash flows, the more the brain drains.''

Forbidden resolution No. 3: ``In 1987 I'm going to `go for it.'''

This is the last gasp of the Age of Me. ``Go for it!'' - the phrase, in all its fizz and fuzziness, perfectly illustrates George Santayana's definition of a fanatic: A person who redoubles his efforts after he loses his sense of direction. In that arena of personal fulfillment, ``going for it'' is a resolution to match national security and greed. A cover phrase that covers everything and nothing, it surpasses in all-time fogginess the old champion - ``having a commitment.''

The rules for good resolutions resemble the rules for good writing. Keep it simple. Keep it specific. Stay away from abstractions, like ``going for it'' with ``national security'' or ``having a commitment'' to greed, that most abstract of appetites.

Perhaps, for the moment, we are bankrupt in the resolutions department - way over our heads in national debt to unkept promises.

Maybe the best resolution for 1987 would be to begin and end with the pre-list - to take a sabbatical and make no resolutions at all. That, at least, is a resolution we could keep.

A Wednesday and Friday column

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