What I’ve Learned in 2023

And what I hope to do differently in 2024

stephen matlock
4 min readJan 1, 2024
Man sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper
Man Reading on a Park Bench — Photo by Hasan Albari

Goodness, another trip around the sun and another flip of the calendar to a new year!

I wanted to reflect upon what I learned this year, and also think of how my knowledge will affect my choices and behaviors in the new year…

1. You are never too old to learn something new. I started learning Haitian Creole in 2022, and have deepened my knowledge and my connections to Haiti and Haitian people. This has changed my views about the world, about empires, about politics, about economies, about justice, and about the lived, human experience in the world that is not merely the national or cultural extension of America. The knowledge doesn’t change my belief in what America and Americans can do for the world but it has changed how I see those efforts and changed how I’d like to see us Americans act to the world around us.

2. You are never too bound to your religious upbringing and culture to abandon all that is harmful to your spirit and your soul. I’ve been a Christian since at least Junior High, if not earlier — my first memories are of being in church, held by my father, as the pastor preached on the Loving Father, the Jealous Son, and the Lost Son. I could not have been more than two years old, but I still remember the room, the pews, the feeling of comfort of being held by my dad, and the earnest gentleness of the pastor sharing about the goodness and love of God. But in my attempts to be Christian I often put myself into situations where I let angry, bitter, and controlling men tell me what loving God and loving others meant, in ways that turned out to be destructive to others and destructive to my own soul. Leaving that kind of Christian belief and behaviors for one that more closely matches what I first heard in church has been liberating to my spirit. I am more like what I wanted to be way back then — a kind, gentle soul who will stand up to bullies and stand against injustice. Love is good, but love is also fierce, and love impels us to stand against hate and stand for people who cannot themselves stand.

3. It is good to know that saying “Yes” or saying “No” are both acceptable ways to respond to requests. Saying “Yes” can bring wonderful adventures when you’re invited to try something you’ve not done before. I’ve said “Yes” to a lot of people who wanted to connect with me, and by and large the experiences have been wonderfully filling and enriching. But also, saying “No” is good, also, even if it’s a response to requests from friends who ask for help. We can offer ourselves up to bring healing to others, but not every request is ours to fulfill. And if we say we follow God, perhaps it is good to let God partner with us (!) in helping others, and to give God space to move not only upon our own hearts but also upon the hearts of others.

4. It is good to live in a land where we can voice our support or objections to policies that our governments do in our name, and attempt to change the direction for the help of others. I can get discouraged by the lack of compassion our nation shows at times, or the attempts by some to actively harm those who most need a hand up and a way forward to get out of distress and anxiety. But while my voice is small, my voice is my own, and I know that in concert with others we can achieve change with our voices — and our actions.

5. It is good to make friends, and it is good to keep the friends you have. I’ve been fortunate to make new connections this year to the point where I have to be careful not to connect to too many people. I don’t want to ignore anyone. But also, I don’t want to let my closest friends be left out because I’m busy with new connections. I can’t be friends with everyone — although I can be friendly. I can be friends with the right people and the right number of people, and for those whom I cannot realistically consider as close friends, I can still be kind and gracious. I am not butter and I am not good if I am spread thinly.

So what do I want to do better? I think the one thing I want to do better is to be even more optimistic and more open. I can see that when I let myself become discouraged by the challenges of life that I was the unhappiest — not by the challenges, but by the feelings of not being “enough” for the challenge. I could not successfully combat every bad effect. I could not help everyone I wanted to help. I could not give of myself to all who asked.

But I was not bad for that, and I can be better at living if I try strategies of expanding my influence by influencing others in the ways of peace, gentleness, care, love, and connection. A single thread is easily broken; a strand of three is not. Perhaps what I must do is seek connections with people who will do the same with others.

And what I’ve learned is that no matter what, no matter how successful or unsuccessful I am, I am always going to try to be as kind, as empathetic, as compassionate, as welcoming, as gentle, as good as I can be.



stephen matlock

Writer; observer; sometimes doer. Fiat justitia ruat cælum. More at stephenmatlock.com Mostly off Medium now & writing elsewhere