“It is permanent. It can be counted on. It is nearly eternal as the race of man. Out of that past we have come. Into it we are constantly returning. Meanwhile, it is of the utmost importance to our lives. It contains the roots of all we are, and of all we have of wisdom, of science, of philosophy, of art, of jurisprudence, of customs and institutions.” – CJ Keyser
We, as humans, take the lessons from the past and use it to predict the future. After all, unless we learn from our experiences we would be stupid, right? If on one day the early human accosted a lion in a particular watering hole, going to the same place nonchalantly the next day would not only be foolhardy, it would lead to loss of life. The first time you cut yourself shaving, you learn how not to wield the razor. We experience stuff, make rules about it, and move forward in our lives guided by those rules.
Sometimes it works, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t work, usually its because we have not taken many variables into consideration while formulating the rule (or belief) in the first place. Its easy to throw a basketball into the hoop while practising alone. Not so easy in a match with opponents preventing you from scoring. A bad relationship can lead to a rule that ‘all men are bad’. Thats not true and the only way you will figure that out is to test that rule which is incorrect. Because if all men are bad, so would your father and brother and friends husbands.
So how should we deal with the past? What is the best way? Social media is abuzz with either people saying that the past was better and everything is going wrong now, or some people saying that everything was wrong in the past and things are now being done to correct the follies of the past. Or others who say that if the present is OK, whatever happened in the past must have been too!
We see therefore that there are three wide-open ways in which one may be foolish.
One of the ways is the way of ignoring the past—the way of remaining blankly ignorant of the human past like animals are blankly ignorant of the learnings from their past generations and so these people are drifting through life as animals do.
Another way is that of falsifying the past by idealizing it—by stupidly disregarding its vices, misery, ignorance, sloth-fulness, and folly, and stupidly magnifying its virtues, happiness, knowledge, achievements and wisdom; it is the way of the self- complacent, the way of those who, being comfortably situated and prosperous, are opposed to change; the past, they say, was wise for it produced the present and the present is good – so, let us be. These are people who are idolatrous, worshiping the Past; or static, contented with the Present; or cowardly, opposed to change, fearful of the Future.
A third way is the opposite of this; it is the way of those who falsify the past by stupidly and contemptuously disregarding its virtues, its happiness, its knowledge, its great achievements, and its wisdom, and by stupidly or dishonestly magnifying its vices, its misery, its ignorance, its great slothfulness, and its folly; it is apt to be the way of the woeful, the unprosperous, the desperate – especially the way of such as find escape from routine life in the excitements of unrest, turbulence, and change; the past, they say, was all wrong, for it produced the present and the present is thoroughly bad – let us destroy it, root and branch.
We are alive to these two sides in India all over Twitter and Facebook.
In striking contrast with these, there is just one with the sober counsel of Wisdom and Common Sense. The answer, like all solutions, is easy and easy to understand. The counsel is this: Do not ignore the past but study it—study it diligently; endeavor to view the past justly, to contemplate it as it was and is, to see it whole—to see it in true perspective—magnifying neither its good nor its evil, neither its achievements nor its failures; and as the salient facts are ascertained, endeavor to find their causes, to understand how things went wrong. See what prompted the mistakes – and look for solutions moving ahead. Not moving back.
Because human beings are a species of thinkers, or mathematicians and engineers. Human beings are, as Alfred Korzybski so eloquently puts it, time binders. We learn and pass on our learnings in the form of language to our progeny, so that they can take the thought forward, and exponentially grow. Like we have, time and again!
It took 75 years for 50 million people to own telephones, 38 years to own radios, 13 years to own a TV set, 4 years for internet, 3.5 years for Facebook and 35 days for Angry Birds! Growth is exponential. In terms of technology, in terms of neuroscience, in terms of understanding ourselves.
Stop getting caught in traps set by your mind to keep you in self pity. Stop cursing what others have and you don’t. Stop either blaming the past or thinking that it is completely rosy. Study it, learn your lessons, and move on. No person can make you happy. Stop criticising!
Find new things, invent, write, create and that, only that, will make you happy. You have something which is the most potent and powerful piece of equipment in the world. Your Brain. Use it!