Saturday, July 17, 2010

Never look back

The other day I had occasion to re-acquaint myself with the Biblical story of Lot and his wife (Genesis: 19). Because the Lord was about to destroy the city, Lot was told by angels to immediately leave Sodom, with his family and go to the mountains. Furthermore the angels told them not to look back to witness the destruction of the city (and also Gomorrah). We are told that Lot’s wife could not restrain her curiosity, looked back and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt.

This is a good analogy. It is an encouragement never to look back on past achievements (or failures). One can never live in the past. The past is history; it has gone never to return. The future has yet to dawn but it offers promise and unlimited opportunity. Trying to live in the past is impossible and any attempt to do so just leads to frustration. Referring to past glories and achievements as if they are a justification to expect and seek current, present day honour and respect is nonsense and meaningless. It is as if the adherents to past glories and past heroes do not believe that the present (or unknown future) will ever give rise to other glories and new heroes.

We all like to look back at times, to happy periods of our life; nations look back to their ‘golden years’ – the Arabs to the time of the various Caliphates from the 7th to 12th centuries; Portuguese to their age of discovery in the 13th and 14th centuries; the Spaniards in the 15th and 16th centuries; the British to the days of empire in the 18th and 19th centuries – all countries have their “glorious” past. But always referring to the past is sterile and atrophying – like Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. Nothing grows in salt and a pillar cannot move. Similarly the human spirit cannot be constrained without some negative effect; it cannot be constrained, for long, either physically or by beliefs. It needs to grow and the only way it can grow is through meeting and overcoming challenges. In this manner and only in this manner will an individual’s potential be achieved and personal fulfilment be gained. We need to grow as human beings and we need to move forward in our quest for knowledge and wisdom which brings peace of mind. We cannot remain static or tied to the past. To do so is a death warrant to any growth and future development of an individual. People, organisations and nations that do just this are doomed to feed off thoughts that have no nutrition for the human spirit and will wither away. Someone who lives only for past glories is not living, they are existing.

Let this be your life’s motto: “Never look back – ever onward and upward.”

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