Key Points:

There is always a brief moment when the new year seems exactly that - a new beginning, full of promise and possibilities.

It's in those first few minutes after midnight when I always think: this year will be better - and so will I. I'll be kinder, more patient, more organised and much wiser. I'll be less judgmental and more forgiving. I'll get around to answering my emails and writing that book chapter I said I'd do for free, and I'll be less demanding of the kids.

Of course, I thought that last year - and look how well that turned out - but still I hoped.

It reminds me of a poem a colleague had on her office wall, which went something like this: "Dear God, so far today, I've done all right. I haven't gossiped, I haven't been greedy, nasty, selfish, lazy or self-indulgent. But, God, I'm going to get out of bed in a few minutes, and from then on, I'm probably going to need a lot more help."

Sure enough, before you know it you're back in the old year, being the same old you.

Already this year we've been reminded that there's murder in our homes, mayhem on our roads, and darkness in our hearts. The gangs are becoming too powerful, beneficiaries too numerous, and yes, obesity is a big problem.

Our hospital lists are too long, our houses are too expensive for ordinary New Zealanders (but dirt cheap for well-off immigrants), our airport security is too lax, our Parole Board is too lenient, our Corrections staff hopelessly inept.

Pretty soon we're sinking into that depressingly familiar mire of gloom and despair, convinced that we're a nation that just can't get it right and believing the worst of people.

None of which is especially constructive, or good for us. Not to mention problematic for columnists like me, who'd really hoped to start the year off on a positive note.

I'd hoped to follow the example of that Kansas City minister, Rev Will Bowen, who'd challenged his flock to stop complaining for at least three weeks, according to the LA Times, because he'd had enough of the griping about his choice of worship music.

It wasn't easy, even for the good reverend. It took him three months of hard work to stop himself from whining for 21 consecutive days.

I wasn't nearly as ambitious - just one column. And to be honest, it was looking a bit desperate. Thank goodness then for those glimmers of hope breaking through the fog.

Take, for example, Judge David Carruthers, the chairman of the much-criticised Parole Board, which has been publicly flayed for releasing the convicted murderer Graeme Burton into the community.

Burton, as every talkback caller and his dog knows, subsequently went on a shooting spree that left one man dead and four others seriously injured. Of course, we all blamed the Parole Board. We all wanted someone's head to roll. Judge Carruthers' head in particular.

But a few days ago, Judge Carruthers fronted up for media interviews and spoke about how devastated he and his board felt. He admitted to an "extraordinary sense of personal responsibility" that Burton's release had resulted in two boys losing their father.

Carruthers' candour is to be applauded. By opening himself and the board up to scrutiny, he's allowed the public to see the Parole Board not as a faceless bunch of idiots, but as a group of people with a difficult job to do.

How much easier to hear the message that the board hears 9000 parole applications a year, declines about two-thirds of them, and that only a small percentage go as badly wrong as Burton, when it's being delivered by a man who admits something has gone wrong.

What's more important? Insisting he pay the price with his resignation or trying to find out what's wrong?

Carruthers' willingness to talk proves how much easier it is to get at the truth when officials stop being defensive and feel free to admit that mistakes have been made. With truth comes greater public understanding and sympathy, and maybe progress towards solving problems.

Is it too much to hope that this might be the beginning of liberating openness and truthfulness in our institutions?

You never know. Certainly, last week's decision by Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier to release five of the court's most recent decisions on the bitter and protracted custody battle over 6-year-old Jayden Headley took openness to unprecedented heights and finally made some sense of a case that's been in and out of the headlines for the past year.

Having seen a few bitter break-ups at close hand, I know how hard it is for people to put aside their antipathy for the sake of their children.

Speaking of children, I sent my teenage daughter to her first Big Day Out, in the company of her friends. We kept in touch by text, she answering my anxious inquiries about her health and safety with "Yes! I'm fine!"

She came back beaming and full of the joys of being squashed up against thousands of her fellow human beings. She had fallen down in the mosh-pit with hordes of others but "we all helped each other up, everyone was really good". She also managed to lose her Killers-autographed cap and then, to everyone's amazement, recover it hours later from a security guard.

She reports there were a lot of drunk guys, and the aroma of weed, but people had looked after each other.

Sometimes you really can have faith in other people.