I have heard the adage that hindsight is 20/20 my whole life. It seems like a thing that should be true. If you could look back and say, “I should’ve done ____, instead of that thing that I did do,” it makes sense. I guess the assumption is that in doing ____, we would have made the right decision and things would have been different, and presumably better. Of course, it works the other way too. “It’s a good thing I _____, instead of what I almost did!” But whether it would have been avoiding a bad decision, or memorializing good ones, the notion is that if we could have somehow popped forward in time, looked backward at the outcome of our decisions, and then returned to our timeline, we would always make the right ones.
Here is where I am stuck. When I look back at many events in my life, I can neither make much sense of them, nor figure out what the different thing is that would have truly made them better. Since time moves ever onward, you would think that the easiest lesson in life would be the one where we continually look back so that we can observe our mistakes and then immediately turn around, look forward, and then never repeat them. It should be so simple. Why then doesn’t that work?
Lately, I have been wrestling with this conundrum, and here is where I am with it at the moment. I think I have determined that the problem lies within our optics. Actually put another way, our optics lie. Frankly, it doesn’t matter which direction you look, forward or back, if your optics are bad. I have found recently that I have preferred to look at my past with distorted and heavily filtered optics. Ones that always tend to favor my appearance and actions in the past, and disfavor the appearance and actions of any other player in those historical scenes.
As I am dedicated to trying to get a better view on who I really am, and how I got to be where I am, I have discovered that I need a new prescription. I have actually needed one for a long time. I love the videos that float around on social media where they show a baby getting glasses and seeing their parents’ faces clearly for the first time. The expression of surprise is infectious! We get that. It is obvious to us that there was a distinctive change in the child’s ability to perceive, and they are overtaken with joy.
I think that many of us wear heavily filtered optics when review our past, and I know I have. Some people have the “Victim” filter, some the “Can Do No Wrong” filter , some the “It’s All My Fault” filter, and the list goes on. Some of us even carry around a set of interchangeable lenses, and can look at the same event and, depending on the filter, recall it completely differently than we had previously. Since our memories are never accurate, and we have the ability to mold them into the memories we want, as opposed to maybe the ones we need, it is very difficult at best to ever see them with clarity.
Let’s assume for a moment, that we can never see our memories accurately. What are we left with? Well, we are actually the sum of our memories. Where we are in life is an accurate reflection of what happened, because we are exactly where we are. Let me explain. Some people conjure a false narrative about their past that is in total conflict with where they are. I knew a man that believed he was one of the child actors in the “Our Gang” films. He would go on and on about being on the set and working with all of the other child stars, and what it was like growing up as a famous child. His today identity was rooted in this false narrative of his past. In my heart I knew that none of what he said was true, but it really wasn’t until Google came onto the scene that I could put any doubts I may have had to rest. He was not a child star ever. But the poor man was completely misaligned with the truth of his past. His present life bore no evidence of his imaginary past life. When challenged for proof, he would be very uncomfortable and make a lot of excuses. He was not a settled and happy man. He was incongruent with his true past, and it emanated from him. His life was literally a lie.
We did not end up where we are through an imaginary and inflated past. I married and divorced 4 times. I have a narrative about that, exonerating me of all wrongdoing. But here’s the problem, I am the common denominator. I cannot avoid it. Where I am now is an accurate reflection of the past. I am sitting here a 4 time divorcé, and if I continue to look through filtered optics, I am doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Now to be fair, this is not a time for me to use the opposite filter and take responsibility for things I didn’t do. That would just be substituting one set of bad optics for another. But I have to be willing to look at the results of my life and work meticulously backwards to reconstruct the accurate truth. I must be willing to absorb any and all blame due me if I am to fix me. I want more than anything in this life to grow and be thoroughly authentic at all times. And, I want to be an accurate observer of my past, good and bad.
Is hindsight 20/20? In my opinion, not usually, and maybe not ever. It takes enormous work, investigative skill, dedication, and a great set of unfiltered optics to unravel the mystery that is us. Even if, and especially if, we are the ones doing the unravelling.