Yes, the past can hurt, but you can either run from it, or learn from it
– The Lion King
What better than a wise quote from The Lion King?
Every single one of us, if you are human, have done or said something you regretted leaving you wishing you could go back in time and change the past. And recently, I’ve been hit with all these thoughts about “if only I did this…” which got me thinking, can you change the past?
The literal answer is no. You cannot physically go back in time to change what you did or said in the past. But how about metaphorically? It’s our choices that we made in the past, that brought us to where we are now in the present. And with this, we can change what we choose to do in the future.
I think this is actually a very important point, because we are always told to “learn from our mistakes” and not to repeat the same mistake twice. Certainly it is true that we should learn from our mistakes, but it’s the word mistake that really bugs me. Things that we regret, are they mistakes? I don’t think so. Because clearly at the time, I thought it was a good idea, I just did’t think of the repercussions or implications of my actions. So if they are not mistakes we should accept them as choices. Choices that we made that have shaped who we are now.
So going back to the original question, can we change the past? Like I said before, this is impossible in the literal sense. Yet somehow, it is so possible. It’s all about perception. Our choices brought us here. But life itself is all about making choices, and we face choices in the present. So what we learned from our past choices and the experience of that will affect the choices we make for our future. In other words, we can change the past, by vastly improving our future.
Sometimes that might mean taking the longer/harder/shorter/easier route. Sometimes maybe nothing changed. We won’t really every know, but I suppose the whole point of it is that we don’t look at the choices we made in the past as mistakes. Because the moment you do that, you become scared of making new decisions. Scared of repeating the same mistake, and you start running away from the responsibility. And that’s no fun.
On a personal level, it might be deciding what job to get into, what University to apply to. You might apply for a job/university, and find that you really enjoy it. That’s great! But if you don’t like it, true, you can’t undo the application. But what you can do is to quit or transfer to something new. You always have the choice to leave and find another option, whatever society tells you. And through this, you learn. You learn a lot more about yourself, your tendencies, your wishes, your passion. And through this, you grow.
On a much global scale, take global warming. We as humans had a choice to keep building infrastructure, fully aware that it was not good for the earth. Yet we kept going anyway. That was a choice we made. Now, we are facing environmental degradation on a massive scale. We cannot change the choices we made in the past. But we can definitely make the right choices to improve the situation for the future.
It’s about perception.
Perception of seeing things in the long term. Seeing that the choices we face are not the be all end all, and that we all make dodgy choices. But that those choices are certainly not mistakes, and are rather, what makes us human beings. That we have this amazing capacity to learn and improve, and unlike other animals, we don’t have a limit to this learning. You can definitely change the past. You can change how you feel about the past, by learning (and not running) from it, and thinking about what you can do to improve yourself for the present and the future.
So next time you feel down about something and start going into the if only I had done this… route (this is also a mental note to myself), know that while it might be difficult to face at the present, you have the choice to make something positive out of that regret, that might actually lead to something better, something that exceeded your expectation. Don’t run away. Accept the past, consider the present, and improve the future.