My wife asked today, “We’ll always look at the past with some mystique, right? We’ll always romanticize it, always look at it with rose-tinted glasses, right?”
True. Even though the future holds so much more – more potential, more growth, more medicine, more science, more fascination, and even more religion and spirituality – we’ll look at the past as this amazing place worth returning to.
Part of the reason for this is that when we think of the past, we tend to focus on the memories that are more easily brought up, rather than the hard ones. We remember the good times, the happy ones, or at least the more memorable ones. When we look back at this pandemic era decades from now, we’ll think about how humans banded together and created vaccines in record time, how we all survived through, even though many, many did not. We’ll not remember this as the era when the world’s hypocrisy was laid bare, when the rift between the thinkers and the feelers was exacerbated, when everyone suffered and the foundations of life-long global trauma were established.
Another reason is that we do not look at the past with introspection. This is why we call it a simpler time. Because the complexities are hidden behind a layer of thoughtlessness. We do not want to introspect because it’s hard. It’s hard because we know that the past was just like the present – complex, uncertain, unforgiving. Yet, survivorship bias kicks in – “we survived, so it mustn’t have been that bad”.
This is why the future is interesting to me – it’s just as uncertain and strange as the present, but there’s hope. Hope that we’ll live better lives, by one metric or another. But this too, is looking at it with rosy glasses. The future will bring it’s own horrors, it’s own trauma, it’s own death and destruction. But it’s out there somewhere. Somehow, we’ll survive it, as we have the past and the present.
Perhaps, in one sense, it’s good that we look at things so positively. Staring the future in its face is bound to cause anxiety. We might as well look at it as some distant land where all will be well, just as it was in the past.