American culture appears to be largely a culture of nostalgia. There is talk of idolized “good ole days”, a return to “traditional values”, and some warped desire to gain one’s childhood back. Yet the people that truly change the world, the ones who make a difference and are the most productive deal mostly in what is real. They give familiarity merely a passing glance as they study reality as it is and not as what they wish it to be.
Nostalgia becomes damaging when it begins to overshadow the world as it is. A longing for the past or to change the past amounts to a denial of it and an inability to make use of the present. The past is gone and so can only be reinterpreted, but only with the information you gain in the present! Your brain cannot tell the difference between what it remembers and what it presently sees so if all you see is regret or some idealized version of what happened before then you will find it very difficult to effect useful change or growth. The other funny thing about memory is that it doesn’t remain the same, no matter how hard we try. It always warps slightly to fit in with whatever we believe. History at large neglects the deeper narratives. It presents only whichever voices were not erased, or suppressed, or utterly destroyed. There is no such thing as the “good ole days”. Each point in time has its own share of problems, ignorance, and dreams.
We can only ever really change our feelings about the past; we can not as of yet change it (unless backward time travel is figured out). The only moment we have in which to act is now. We build meaning into our futures by beginning with plans that start right at this moment. When the past or the future cease to have a meaningful connection with the present, it is easy to become lost in quagmires of illusion. What ought to have been or what ought to be cease to have a ground in reality because the present is not acknowledged. The most efficient and well-rounded people pay the most attention to the current moment, which is nothing more than taking account of reality as it is. Any dream you have, any goal that you set for yourself, any feelings that need healing or development need some tie to that which is.
Many people seem to run into brick walls of their own making. They cannot move past something that happened, they can’t get over someone they loved, they cannot move forward with new ideas because the past has become a monolith. It doesn’t even matter if the memory is good or bad; it still has the potential to mess with creativity, innovation, growth. Even kind and good folk fall into the trap of the familiar. It is a choice to be made. The familiar is what is remembered and known, the real is what is discovered and planned. These two modes of living produce very different results. Science and art is often rooted in the latter, in the real. Hollywood movies (and television, popular music) and politics are rooted in the former, in the familiar.
Each of these living modes logically produces in kind. If you choose the familiar you will likely usually find more of the same, find it harder to try new things, and your fears will hold you back. If you choose the real you will usually discover something new, create something deep, and your fears are noted and surpassed. It is not evil to only live with the familiar. It just takes a much longer time to work through any problem. The familiar becomes a distraction in a lot of cases instead of merely being information or experience to draw on. It creates an impossibility when it is no longer tied to reality or current circumstances. When the image becomes louder than actuality (or eventuality) the only purpose it can result in is distortion.
Think about what is familiar to you? How is it holding you back? How is it informing your decisions? Why are you attached to a certain memory or a certain time? Why do you think that in the present or future you won’t feel the same or differently? Who do you admire? Do they make decisions based on the real or the familiar? How is that working for them? How is it working for you? In what ways can you balance the familiar with the real?