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Don't Look Back

"Don’t look back" is common advice these days, common and appallingly bad. To only look forward would be like driving without rearview and side view mirrors. Perhaps the proportions of a car are appropriate, with that big old windshield right there, but it would be foolish to attempt to navigate traffic safely without frequent glances beside and especially behind us.

Failure to look back ignores the things that have led to today, ignores, in fact, all of history, collectively and individually. Aren’t we told that those who do not look back at the past are condemned to repeat it?

Would any teacher, advising a student about to take a midterm exam, suggest that the student not at least take a little look back at previous material? Would any doctor perform a diagnosis without at least some thought about the patient’s prior medical history?

Where do we draw the line for not looking back? Don’t look back to 10 years ago? Don’t look back to one year ago, to yesterday? Don’t look back to five minutes ago? If so, offering the advice to not look back will be an offer that is too late. Whoever asked the question or raised the problem will have moved on, only looking forward, like the Dory character who helped Marlin find Nemo.

To not look back dismisses everyone who has ever loved us or performed some act of kindness toward us: our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our teachers, our friends, the old woman who lived across the street who gave us a fruity flavored frozen treat on a stick when we were sick in bed. To not look back at those we respect is to be selfish and arrogant far beyond the point of being foolish. To not look back robs us of any chance or any need to recognize or express gratitude.

Most of us have a current problem that would benefit from remembering something we had done in the past, or someone who had helped us in the past, to resolve a similar situation. Perhaps “don’t look back” is what Billy Joel had in mind when he sang, “That’s your decision but I’m not below anybody I know if there’s a chance of resurrecting a love. I’m not above going back to the start to find out where the heartache began.”

Sometimes we have to go back to the start. Shouldn’t there be, from time to time, a need to review our own pasts, our own promises, and our commitments? If we make a promise, a vow, can we excuse ourselves not doing it simply by saying that it was in the past?

We are not cast anew each morning, fresh and unlived. We each have a foundation, a history, brimming with people and experience and knowledge that can help us today, that can guide us correctly, today. Yes, some things and some people in the past hurt us, but that can’t justify abandoning the past entirely.

Certainly, we must look forward but it would be unwise to assume that everything and everyone in the future has our best interests at heart. We must rely on the past to help us discern truth from error, or our behavior will be no different and our end result will be the same as it is now.


The past is the only possible gauge we have to judge the future. It would be unwise if not outright insane to assume that everything in our lives, in our pasts, the good and the bad, has no value to us now and as we move forward.

From The VICE Quad Volume 1.

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