Looking Back to See the Future
A new year often prompts us to look forward and imagine what the coming months might hold. The month of
January is named for the Roman god Janus, protector
of gates, doorways, and transitions. He was depicted
with two faces, one looking to the future and the other looking to the past. January seems an opportune month
for reflection, to contemplate where we have been as
we chart where we are going.
The Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The past offers myriad lessons
for the present. Studying past societies, systems, ideologies, religions, governments, cultures, conflicts,
and technologies teaches us how we got to where we
are today. Are there any more profound questions than “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” History often provides answers to these age-old questions.
History occurs on different and dramatic scales. The geologic history of Earth stretches back billions of years. Human ancestors first appeared hundreds of thousands
of years ago. Human civilization began a mere 6,000 years
in the past, while the modern era is just a few hundred years old. While there are lessons to be learned from
each of these periods, perhaps far more pressing are
our own personal histories. Personal reminiscence can
be a powerful practice if done correctly.
For a long time, reminiscence was seen as unhealthy.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that psychologists began to
value reminiscence and personal reflection. Of course, reminiscence takes many forms. Both obsessing about how awful life was and escaping into the glories of the
past offer little value. However, using reminiscence to
pass on valuable life lessons can be constructive to a younger generation. Using past experiences as a
blueprint to overcome present challenges is also helpful.
The value of the past is that it gives us wisdom and strength for the present and reinforces for us that the choices we made were valuable and life was not wasted.