Friday, January 01, 2016

On To The Future

In a way, 1st January is the strangest day, when the present and the future come together. Our conversations, more than on any other day, centre on things to come. And, that makes this day somewhat special, a brief but momentous journey between the nostalgia of year-end and present-mindedness of the 2nd January. It is, for most of us, both a pause and a spark, to enjoy the present possibilities.

One way of seeing it is that we have one day every year for future and one day for the past, and the balance three hundred and sixty three (or four, as in 2016) for living in the present. That proportion sounds about right. Indulging too much on the future, just like being stuck in the past, can be somewhat harmful, obscuring the wonderful and immediate potential of every day. But, as there is value in our past in providing us with a perspective to live, there is value in the future, as it broadens our horizons.

A good way to live the present, as the self-help books will tell you, is to focus on the tasks at hand. In the very succinct presentation of Stephen Covey, it should be done by focusing on our areas of influence rather than things that concern us. For little people like us, this means getting on with our daily lives, leaving all these other important things, from fighting Daesh to fixing Libor, to our politicians, bankers, and business tycoons. And, this is wonderfully effective, or should be, because all those things can be far too complex, best left to people who knows and can make a difference. 

Indeed, there are times when outside turbulence become far too overwhelming, just as it did during the Financial Crisis, or for a few nasty days in Paris last year. Those are moments when big things, the things we leave at the domain of concern, invaded our little private lives. One way to deal with them is, once the bloodbath is over, to re-assign them back where they belonged, and carry on with our daily lives. That is indeed what our bankers, politicians, leaders tell us to do. Carry on with your daily lives, invest in stocks and bonds, enjoy the fireworks! Show all those terrorists that you are unafraid, they say. Or forgive the bankers and go shopping again, in a different variety. Have faith, have faith, have faith, just as the Priests taught us in an earlier generation.

But, seen another way, all those things that are too big, too complex, too overwhelming for us to be consigned to our sphere of concern, was once in a state where we could have influenced them. Those moments may lie in the past, but they always occur, in different forms and for different outcomes, all the time. Just that they lie in the future, because we need to act to bring our collective influence to the fore. We needed to organise, we needed to connect, we needed to have a dream, to bring all those collective influence to have consequence.

Here is, then, my point. The wonderful philosophy of present-mindedness, while promising to prioritise action over thought, prioritise dependence over action. We are told, three hundred and sixty three days of the year, not to take control over our lives, but to create an illusion of influence in a little private corner, lived through abandoned New Year Resolutions or Morning Paper Outrages. The dreamy flirtation with future, taboo for the little people, may provide us a glimpse of what could be, but our New Year indulgences with the future, in all those promises of eat healthy or work better, assiduously avoid, and indeed obscure, any commitment to the outside world.

So, here is my resolution: To think of the future of the kind that matters! Future is, by definition, undefined, as that depends on so many actions of the past, present and of future itself. But that does not make us helpless, but rather, empowered. The future exists as long as we care for it to exist, and we have a voice as long as we make the effort to have a voice. We will the future, and 1st January is a perfect day to start thinking about it.


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