Rearview Driving…Not a Strategy.

Strange as it sounds, we often use rearview mirrors to see where we’re going in life. Auto manufacturers install them so we can glance at them from time to time to see what’s happening behind us. As humans we use rearview mirrors more frequently than we should. Not while we’re driving but as a navigational tool for our lives. We keep looking back as if we left something on that road behind us. Like we can throw our lives in reverse, speed backwards, and recover ground. In our rearview mirror, we can turn off where and when we should have, or worse yet, run over someone we later wish we never met or come to despise.

Rehashing again and again about what happened at various age mileposts, last month, or yesterday, we ruminate on the life behind us. With hindsight clarity, we vividly remember who called us a name when we were five, who did what when we were 10, who was mean to us at 15, who dumped us at 20, or (fill in the blank). We’re told that what happened then, informs us of who we are now. Returning to the past is like returning to the scene of the crime – where we can understand our victimhood, our character building, the wounds we inflicted, and the role we played in all of it.

We talk about all the debris along the roadside. Reopening the bags and sifting through them. By looking in the rearview mirror, we can justify our misery, complaints, disappointments, and failures with commiseration. We are after all, just reflecting and so too are a lot of other people.

So many of us want to understand how we arrived at where we are today. We retrace our trip, remembering where we stopped, who was in the car with us, the flat tires, mechanical failures, scrapes, and even crashes. We drive past, “If Only Street”, “I Wish Circle”, and “I Should Have Avenue” with profound regret.  Reviewing our life is essential. It is how we learn what never to repeat, what to do more of, and where we should go next. Reminiscing is so powerful, it is used as a therapy to help those with dementia and those close to death. It encourages people to discuss their past, highlighting the things they accomplished, providing relevance to their lives, and comforting them that they leave behind a legacy. But if all we do is reminisce, we are like a tire stuck in a rut spinning deeper and going nowhere real fast. As Ellen Glasgow said, “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”

This proclivity for rearview mirroring is pervasive. Scan through social media. Yes, there’s the occasional cute kitty, darling baby bottom, smiling emoji, or fattening recipes. But there is also an undercurrent of bemoaning our pasts, collective victimhood, and learned helplessness. This is in no way to dishonor the true tragedies some of us have had to endure and maybe still do. But I would submit if we’re finding time to post about them on Facebook or sharing them with someone (or anyone) who’ll listen, other than a therapist – then these are events we need to stop looking at in the rearview and start looking forward. There’s a reason the rearview mirror is far smaller than the windshield. If we’re 45 and focusing on what happened when we were 10, there’s a lot of mileage between those two points and effectively nothing we can do to alter the odometer. Unless the car never left the garage, we all get scraped, bumped, and dented. Yes, old memories can color the lens through which we see the world and how we behave.  But old memories, like outdated roadmaps can be flawed, misdirecting us when there’s so much road ahead.

During this pandemic season, many of us will rely on memories of better times by glancing in that rearview mirror. Not to lament them but to assure us better times are just ahead. As the drivers of our own vehicles, we can focus straight ahead and leave that rearview for an occasional glance. That is within our power, just like the gas pedal…or the brake. The sooner we learn that the best view is ahead, just out the windshield – the better the ride.

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