Now that we are beginning a new year and the festivities and observances of the holiday season are over, it’s a good time to look back before we focus completely on looking ahead.

One traditional way of learning from the past is to make resolutions for changes of behavior and priorities. Perhaps, however, you’ve noticed as I have that there’s not much talk or discussion about resolutions. In fact, it seems as if we’ve all resolved not to have any resolutions at all.

If so, that’s too bad. Imperfect as we humans are, it would be helpful to make improvements in the choices we make and the values we hold to be true. One simple reason is that we have more impact – good or bad – on the world around us than we might think, and sometimes that influence can extend beyond our years.

A good example is Leonardo da Vinci, best known as the Renaissance painter who created the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous portrait in the world.

He was born in 1452 near Florence, Italy, and died in 1519. Remarkably, after all this time – nearly 500 years – over 7,200 pages of his notes and observations still survive, documents that attest to his inquiring mind and insatiable quest for knowledge. Their survival also proves that paper is an incomparable storage technology, still readable after our tweets and other ephemeral means of communication will be long gone.

Leonardo had many talents. He was not only a painter, but also a musician, designer, a civil, as well as a military engineer, teacher, mathematician, diplomat, scientist, inventor, creator of performances and pageants, and a lifelong student of what has been described as the wholeness and interconnectedness of nature.

He was also a vegetarian.

He made that life choice based on what he concluded from what he saw. According to a recent biography, he felt that since humans and other creatures shared the same world, people were being abusive or cruel to their own kind when they killed animals. He also noted that, unlike plants, animals could feel pain. Several contemporary sources indicate that Leonardo “preferred to dress in linen so as not to wear something dead,” and all agree that he was generous to people and kind to animals.

All in all, it’s easy to be awed by Leonardo’s sheer diversity and the many aspects of all his endeavors. His numerous abilities reveal the kind of restless energy and curious spirit that are rare indeed, making it unlikely that any of us will equal his accomplishments, the unbounded scope of his eclectic interests, or his proficiency in the varied skills for which he was widely known, even in his own time.

It’s also extremely unlikely that anything we say or write (including this commentary) will be remembered in the next 500 years. But there is something we can all do that doesn’t require creative ability or artistic recognition or that we be really smart. Why? Because you don’t have to be a genius to be caring.

Resolve, therefore, in this year and years to come that you will treat the planet and its inhabitants – human and animal alike – with the generosity and kindness amply demonstrated by one of the world’s greatest artists.

We can all learn that from Leonardo.

Don Loprieno
Bristol