"The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar...It was tense."
Humans seldom live in the present. We are either regretting or longing for the past, or hoping and reaching for the future. Filled with loathing and fearing, remorseful or nostalgic, dreaming and planning, anticipating and aspiring...
That’s even what is happening as I write this article, I am dwelling on the past and the future:-), not living present at this very moment—except right here, Now.
First, let’s look backward. Take a journey into the past. And see history in a new way. So we can change the future.
“We are all ruled by the past, although no one understands it. No one recognizes the power of the past…The individual is sitting on top of a mountain that is the past….That is why I say, the future belongs to the past.”
“Just think about it, the past has always been more important than the present. The present is like a coral island that sticks above the water, but is built upon millions of dead corals under the surface, that no one sees. In the same way, our everyday world is built upon millions and millions of events and decisions that occurred in the past…” 500 years ago and 1,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago.
Michael Crichton, Timeline
As far as our physical selves go, a breath-taking study of our past is The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins, where in the illimitable study he takes us on an evolutionary journey back through history all the way to the beginning of life at least 3 ½ billion years ago!
And all of the future is also built on our present use of that past. We are moment by moment creating our future right now by how we use the past.
For instance, our whole species, racial and ethnic background, worldview, society, culture, and family outlook is based on the past. And at every moment we live out those past realities, adapt them, or change them, or create something new.
Of course, the further a person goes down in levels the more difficult changing is. There have been millions of creative individuals who have altered their family outlook, moved to a very different society and culture, or who have changed their worldview for a different perception, religion, or philosophy. And they may even have tried to alter their ethnic and racial background. When I was a teen I remember reading the short controversial book, Black Like Me, where a John Howard Griffin, a Caucasian journalist got his skin darkened medically and lived as a Negro in the South for 6 weeks.
No one can change their species, though I suppose there are mental patients who even imagine themselves doing that. Reminds me of a famous essay entitled, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” by the American philosopher Thomas Nagel.
Or a cat? When our cat Fizzy has again acted oddly—from our perspective—I sometimes stare into those feline eyes with their intense kiwi-green color and slivered black pupils and wonder how she perceives, what her consciousness is like.
But here’s the paradox again. While most animals have consciousness, few if any other than homo sapiens have the ability to consciously plan out their future. So not only are we ruled by all the past, especially our being of a particular species, we very strongly affect our future by our new choices of our worldview, our goals, aspirations, and dreams—whether for good or bad.
Think how different the 20th Century would have been if Germans had chosen differently? Or of the 21st century if Muslims, and other determinists didn’t think that Allah/fate/cosmos, etc. has ordained every detail of the future?
Contrary to what some scientists such as determinist Sam Harris claim that nothing can be changed, that even if time replays a "trillion time" it will always come out the same, other thinkers disagree.
“What you commit yourself to be will change what you are and make you into a completely different person. Let me repeat that. Not the past but the future conditions you, because what you commit yourself to become determines what you are—more than anything that ever happened to you yesterday or the day before.’
Dr. Anthony Campolo
With enthusiastic rhetorical flourish, Campolo overstates the case, because he wants individuals to realize they can change. For we are limited or enlivened by our physical characteristics, our temperament, our background, our culture, our society, our worldview, etc.
But as Dr. Eric Berne, the famous psychologist and creator of Transactional Analysis emphasized in his books and practice, we don’t need to be stuck reliving the past like a helpless twig caught in a whirlpool, repeat, repeat, repeat. Nor do we need to spend countless hours doing endless mental archaeology, trying to figure out what happened to us back in our family’s past or our country's past which causes us or leads us to behave as we do now.
NO! We at this moment can decide to reject attitudes and behaviors of the past, and re-decide how we will live now and in the future.
It won’t be easy going; nothing worth doing ever is. Consider, it took Thomas Edison thousands of attempts to invent a light bulb. But he didn’t give up. He said,“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
In the Light,