The Past Cannot be Honored
The only way to honor the past is to invest in the future. One cannot simultaneously live in the past, whilst honoring it. Celebrated periods are produced when the inhabitants of an era, in good or bad times, are still in the moment, still engaged in the task at hand with the intention of pursuing the best, not the easiest results. “Great times” are built in moments when circumstances and pursuit of success demand complete focus and determination, this cannot be done while preoccupied with another age. While we learn from history, we must not wallow in it, while we have a vision for the future, we focus on the present. Having spent untold amounts of time dreaming of living in my own idealized time and space, I have had many occasions to pull myself out of these illusions. Investigating what it is that makes the grass seem so green in other points throughout history has helped me to identify why it’s so attractive and yet unhelpful.
The golden eras we humans love to idealize are often not as great as they seem. The problems we all experience now, are similar to many in the past. Of course, throughout the flow of history, there are ages when a society or even large sections of the world are more comfortable and are experiencing times of greater peace and prosperity. There have been eras when things in a general sense were better; a larger percentage of the population possessed a more equitable starting point, balanced ethics, and a positive attitude towards others in their vicinity and kingdom overall. As development continues we often find the last generation which maintains a focus on their own life and work, is the generation which developed enough success to consider careers, upgraded transportation, and considers large times of rest an annual event. While achieving success, there is not a preoccupation of dreaming of riches or ease or living vicariously in other times or places. After this, while we may see growing prosperity in the society, there is a general turning away from the traditions of the land. The arc is at the coasting stage, the new generations no longer see the need for ‘outdated’ ethics and mindsets. The habits which built and established the achievements and comfortability are largely cast aside, the patterns of success are forsaken. Of course, as success establishes great systems, initially straying from them seems to work, and even appear to temporarily bring continued prosperity. However, the arc is peaking and the downfall quickly approaches. As the process which produced such achievements and even the ability to coast (for a short time) has ceased, reaction to the new mindset and habits approaches. Of course there is always a nostalgia for the past, but a growing obsession and longing for old ways grows as the arc flattens and finally begins to tip downwards. It will fall fast until strong men and women step in with great heaves and work to damn the river of destruction, restore patterns of healthy life and begin again to build up a strong society. As prosperity returns it begins once more to breed arrogance which will inevitably lead to lazy, over confident and reckless folks, completing this observable patten throughout humanity. I have oversimplified the explanation for this discussion, but we do see this sequence replicated across history and the globe in varying magnitudes, wavelengths, frequency and speed.
There is a great difficulty in abundance to not grow complacent. These “good ole’ days” provide excess for the following generation, which, more often than not, quickly fail to rise to the challenge of properly handling the largely metaphysical pitfalls of abundance, not consuming more, but consuming better, distributing better. Maintained focus is required to continue to stoke the fire of progress in the areas that brought about these moments of prosperity.
The key to slowing this pattern and moderating the valleys is to invest in the moments, each generation focused on the now. Make the now a part of the glory days. Keep building the momentum, or at least slow the flattening or down turning of the pattern of society. Work in the moment, make the present great. Washington towards the beginning of a nation, Lincoln in the middle (though it seemed like the possible end), and MLK Jr in recent days. There can be great contributors in any segment of the ebb and flow of a country or land. Whether in hopeless political mire as Oliver Cromwell, dire straits as Winston Churchill (and arguably in the throws of the downfall), steadier days with Margaret Thatcher, or even foundational beginnings as with Alfred the Great, the point of focus is unchanged. Being proud and invested in our own period is what makes it a glorious time to be alive, to be and a part of this current humanity, to be engaged in a wonderful experiment of human social structuring.
“Respect the past, engage our present, welcome the future.”
When I speak of traditions and ways of life, this is not particular to any one society. Outside of outliers that have destructive traditions (which usually don’t sustain very long) certain ways of life that prospered in Japan may be quite different from patterns in Brazil, habits in Norway may not translate well to Morocco. What we are addressing is the general attitude of keeping with a basic mindset and approach to life that is harmonious with what has worked within each given society.
Fluctuating levels of prosperity and suffering through a society’s existence tempt us to make unfair comparisons, but there is always an ideal opportunity available, to invest and be happy with the time and space which we inhabit. Seeing that we cannot transport to another era, to any given ‘golden age,’ all other arguments aside, we might as well invest in the one we have. Those “days in the sun” had their own troubles, which, to its inhabitants caused another period further into the past seem better and less complicated. The simplest life is the one seeking to dictate only the things which can actually be controlled. The simplest life is the one completely invested in the present, while honoring and learning from history, and in this manner embracing the future.
We cannot truly honor yesteryear and its heroes while wishing to live in their era. We cannot celebrate the past if we spend our lives trying to live in it. Now obviously I am not talking about history teachers or historical villages which bring history to life for us. There must be a place where we learn about our heritage. A profession of teaching from the past is not necessarily living in it to a detrimental degree if it is helpful in educating. Let’s excuse the small percentage for whom this applies. Now then, just as our bygone heroes lived, we must focus our primary enterprise and energy on today! In fact, most of the legendary figures we often find ourselves dreaming of accompanying in those glories days, were very forward thinkers determined to build a brighter tomorrow by fully embracing the here and now.
Let us enjoy the past, the music and art, learn from the wars and cultural happenings, look over pictures and documents from our ancestors. Let’s learn and grow through these observations. More than that, may we take note of the great figures of history learning perspective from the past, contentedly engaged in the present moments with the aim of investing in the future.
The beautiful past is made up of nothing more than a great many nows. The entrancing stories of yore were built by folks fully pledged to their present moments. The simpler times were made to seem thus by those choosing to focus on that which is continually in our own grasp, the now. We can thereby eliminate so many needless distractions. We can build a splendid history of our own, with full immersion in our current lives — learning from the past so we can move into a bright future. Our steady focus must be centered on the only place we can act, the ever-present now.
Respect the past, celebrate our present, welcome the future.
“God has put something noble and good into every heart his hand has created. So while living on earth we must always remember to learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow because time will only show what has mattered throughout our journey.” — MELANIE KLEIN