Thursday, October 1, 2009

Learning from the past.

Post 337 – I’ve been watching the 1974 BBC series, Fall of Eagles, the past few weeks (highly recommended) which dramatizes the events leading up to the first World War. Since the same nations went to war again 25-years later, it seems they didn’t learn a lot from their previous experiences. This inability to learn from the mistakes of past seems to be part of the human condition - and hence this post.

You can never successfully plan the future by the past, believing that the past is like the present, only in fancy dress. “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days,” to quote the ever-eloquent Winston Churchill.

Proust says of our past, “It's a labor in vain to try to recapture it; all the efforts of our intellect are useless. The past is hidden somewhere outside its own domain in some material object which we never suspected. And it depends on chance whether or not we come upon it before we die.”

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Daedalus sits in the National Library in Dublin on June 16, 1904 and says, “In the future, the sister of the past, I may see myself as I sit here now, but by reflection from that which I shall be.” The whole thrust of Ulysses is its recognition that seemingly “inevitable” events are “lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted.”

We should question the notion of a singular grand narrative, of a verifiable and recoverable past. There’s no single history, only a collection of self-interested histories, usually written by the winners, each composed at the mercy of its own moment of creation and of the way it was captured.

All this is not to say that we shouldn’t confront our own past but rather we should do so in ways that are buoyant, open and focused on the future. A study of history shows the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by defeat. Their philosophy was one of hope, even when their track record was previously one of despair. They made the most progress when they incorporated a perspective that audaciously reimagined their problems and opportunities.

As an exercise over the coming weekend, I suggest you make a list of your every accomplishment and so document your history of success. List the awards you’ve won, all the training you’ve completed, and include examples where you’ve gone above and beyond what would normally have been expected in every area of your life. Reviewing this list will boost your self-confidence, thus allowing you to use your past to reimagine your future in a more confident and positive way.

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