“Can’t we go back to the time when life made sense?”
When was that exactly? Strolling down memory lane is pleasant because hindsight, being 20/20, makes sense of things that were once confusing. But succumbing to the myth of an idealized past can be dangerous. History is filled with examples of individuals, nations, and empires that brought about their own ruin by doggedly rejecting the present and trying to force a return to “the way things used to be.”
Were there good things in the past? Of course; it goes without saying. Were there bad things in the past? Absolutely. Was there an equal balance between the two? Never. For every segment of the human family who imagined themselves blissfully happy at any particular time, there was another segment suffering.
To spread the bliss and eliminate the suffering is the great objective of human striving. But it’s difficult to strive for a better future if we’re convinced the past is preferable and that those who weren’t happy “in the good old days” were either lazy, willfully ignorant, or simply troublemakers. Speed down life’s highway with one’s gaze steadily fixed in the rearview mirror, and one will crash into the ditch at the side of the road—otherwise known as “the wrong side of history.”
That’s become a popular phrase in recent years— “the wrong side of history,” and our understanding of it is overly simplistic. There’s a tendency to think of history as a battle over issues; one view of an issue is right, the other wrong; those holding the view deemed “wrong” will land on the wrong side of history when those holding the “right” view inevitably carry the day.
The idea that history has a right side was somehow deduced from Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous statement: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But Dr. King never mentioned sides or history; he spoke of something eternal—the long arc of the moral universe. That arc doesn’t have sides or take sudden turns, but, over time, it bends.
What we do know is that the future will certainly be different from the present—much as the present of a century ago was different from that of the prior century. To the question “Will the future be better or worse than the present?” the answer is, “Yes.” It will be better for some and worse for others. The number of people for whom it will be better will depend on the number of us, here and now, who act with integrity upon the lessons that both our history and the present moment can teach us.
So, let’s continue driving down the road, our destination being to spread the bliss and eliminate suffering. Focus on the road ahead, notice landmarks as we pass them, take occasional glances in the rearview mirror for the sake of perspective, and remember: time moves in one direction only.
Rob Lauer is an award-winning, nationally-produced and published playwright with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry. His national credits include production work for MGA Films, Time/Warner TV, The Learning Channel and The History Channel. Locally, Rob has been producing, directing and hosting three TV series for PCTV (the City of Portsmouthâ€™s official channel) since 2011.
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