I was speaking to an elderly gentleman at the bus stop this morning and the conversation troubled me: he had a problem with Now. He felt sorry for children nowadays, what with all the unemployment now. His son had been murdered four years ago but he had come to terms with it, because life’s like that now.
We seem so focussed on the present, that sometimes we forget to look to the past, both for inspiration and for hope. There has been unemployment before, there have been recessions before, and in those times, as in this, people will struggle to find work. The economy is cyclic and there will be better days ahead.
Despite what you might think, the murder rate in England and Wales is declining, back to levels we haven’t seen since the early 1980s. But, when things affect us personally, or when we’re exposed to negative stories on a frequent basis in the news, we are more likely to overestimate their occurence. We can’t help it, but we seem predisposed to finding the bad in everything, or stoically accepting the fact there’s nothing we can do about it so there’s no point in getting angry. Five hundred and forty nine murders is 549 too many, but miniscule compared to the millions of people who inhabit this small rock.
In his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, Daniel Kahneman describes the following study conducted on German students. As part of a questionnaire, they were asked the following two questions:
How happy are you these days?
How many dates did you have in the last month?
There was hardly any correlation between the two sets of answers. However, a second group of participants were asked the the questions in reverse order. This time, the correlation was extraordinarily strong. Those who’d had more dates were happier. Their judgement, their thoughts and feelings, had been affected by Now.
Another example? We had a cold snap late November/early December last year. Suddenly, we all (well, me at least) thought that the signs were good for a white Christmas. Two days of bitterly cold winds, maybe a flurry of snowflakes, and we were out to the bookies placing our bets. If you’d asked me a week later, when the weather had turned wetter and milder, I’d have given you a completely different response.
So, the singularity of Now can mislead us; but it can also offer opportunity. How many chances do we miss to do a good deed, seize the moment, set an example? What would happen to that flash of inspiration if nurtured then and there? How many chances do we miss when serendipity strikes? If one door closes, do we stare at it, or walk through the doorway that opened up in its place?
One of my favourite poems is ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. In the last verse he writes:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the world and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
So many times, these lines have inspired me to make the most of those wasted moments I’ll never get back: like those I spend waiting for the kettle to boil or the washing machine to do its final spin. Not only do I get to bed a few minutes earlier, I also feel a smidgen of pride for completing even the smallest of tasks.
But making the most of Now can be far more rewarding than that. Now is a precious thing. We will never be able to go back and do the things we didn’t, nor undo the things we did. We will look back on Now with fondness and regret, analyse our mistakes and probably repeat them again. But Now is positive. Now is but a window into time and space; our perceptions of it shaped by recent experiences but its very existence the product of all the events that have come before it. Now always offers a chance for change, an opportunity for hope, an invitation to start something new.
And it’s in that spirit that I started this blog. It may be imperfect, perhaps a little too prosaic or whimsical, but I’ve put it off for far too long. Doubt and apathy got in the way. I don’t promise regular updates – obligations and deadlines can spoil a hobby – but I want to use my writing as a way of answering the questions I haven’t solved yet, and to take the time to articulate my thoughts. I may never answer all the questions I have, but if exploring the issues and topics makes things just a tiny bit clearer, and if I learn things along the way, then it will all be worth it.
But that’s it for now.