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This time of year is known for the making of New Year’s resolutions. I admit that I have never been big on this concept. It is not because I fail to recognize the need for taking stock and committing to self-improvement. I just do not want to limit the process to January.

That said, I decided to give it a try. While weight loss through increased exercise and healthy eating remains on the list, I wanted to go deeper. After reflecting on the possibilities, I decided to go back to first grade. I recalled that when my daughter was in first grade at Sangamon School in Mahomet, she and her classmates participated in a program known as “Character Counts.” Being a little fuzzy on the details (I could only remember four of the six components) I went directly to the best source. The principal at the time was the amazing Mark Cabutti. I could write this column entirely about Mr. Cabutti and the impact he had on the children and their parents. I’ll forgo that and simply report that shortly after my request was made, Mr. Cabutti came through with the information I needed.

I have used the material as a basis for shaping my goals for 2020. Writing about this is somewhat tricky. I do not want to be too personal nor do I want to sound preachy. I’ll express my thoughts as my resolutions. However others are free to keep the concepts in mind as they reflect on their own situations.

The “Character Counts” program consisted of six pillars. Those are fairness, respect, citizenship, responsibility, trust and caring. They are certainly interrelated. Hopefully, none of us would score a zero in each category. However, I know I have room for improvement and I suspect I am not alone.

Since this is an election year, we can consider citizenship first. Listening to and reading the news and being bombarded by political advertisements can trigger different reactions. I admit that one of those is to just check out and become indifferent. I resolve to resist the temptation. Instead, I am going to do what I encouraged new citizens to do back when I had the honor of presiding over naturalization ceremonies. That is, I shall support candidates I trust and vote.

Along those lines, I shall respect those whose opinions and choices differ from mine. In fact, there is no need to limit this to the electoral process. We can disagree with each other as to countless issues (including whether it is “rude” to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. I read that on from social media. You cannot make this stuff up.) I am going to work on disagreeing agreeably. Respect for others will be a big help.

It is easy to fall into a trap of thinking one is the only person that really matters. We just have to get out on the roads to see this “me first” mentality at work. Maybe working on caring for others and their right to inhabit the planet peacefully will result in better behavior. caring can be demonstrated with a checkbook. It can also come in the form of a smile and kind word. Recently, I was inspired by Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s visit to the home of three boys who had recently lost their father. Matthew and his wife surprised the boys with the gift of their presence.

Several of the pillars come into play in my work as a mediator and arbitrator. They are just as important in other contexts as well as life in general. I must earn the trust of the participants. When I ask each side in a case if they are seeking a fair resolution they answer invariably is “yes.” They just have a different idea as to what is fair, sometimes leading me to conclude that fair is defined as that which benefits the person. Just as I did when serving as a judge, I have to pursue fairness from a neutral perspective. Avoiding implicit bias (a subject for a future column) is a particular point of emphasis in this process.

Using these pillars as a framework for goal setting has created a sense of responsibility. A resolution can be something to mumble when someone asks if we have made one. If we are serious, however, we have made a commitment to improve in each area mentioned.

The return to first grade has been inspirational. Thanks, Mr. Cabutti.

Happy New Year to you all.

David Bernthal of Mahomet is a retired 21-year federal magistrate. He is a counsel with the Webber & Thies PC law firm. His email is