Looking back can be very pleasurable. Memories of growing up, making friends, visiting favourite holiday spots, getting our first job etc. (all in a seemingly simpler world) can make some of us yearn for the good old days.
Any mention of the good old days in our house, when I was a boy, usually brought on a vehement response from my father as to why the old days were anything but good. Given that he was severely wounded in WWI and later weathered a difficult time in The Great Depression I came to understand his reaction as I grew older. All things are relative.
In today’s society we are so bombarded with negatives, and the stresses of life around us, that we may automatically see the past through rose coloured glasses. At least the past is known. Somehow it’s our security. Especially in the current COVID-19 crisis we understandably want things to be the way they were because contemplating the future seems too difficult to fathom. Imagining the "what ifs" can be scary but the history of science, medicine, the arts and many other fields of endeavour is rich with examples of individuals who imagined positive "what ifs" and then went on to make them a reality. The Einsteins and Galileos of this world certainly command respect for their extraordinary gifts but so do the unrecognised millions who, in their respective fields, imagine fantastic possibilities then bring them to fruition.
Although whole communities and many individuals do spend a good deal of time and energy focusing on the future, the "fantasy approach" is one we too often fail to cultivate in ourselves or nurture in our children.
We need visionaries in our world and in our local communities, perhaps now more than ever. In our own circles of activity we can be dreamers too. Far from the familiar loop of comparing today with yesterday it is possible to imagine what tomorrow could be and work to make it so.
Providing an environment in which people are free to indulge in creative fantasy is a gift which parents, educational institutions and business leaders can offer others. Not every piece of thinking outside the box will bear fruit but trusting our own ability to generate fresh ideas from within is at the heart of both inventiveness and personal growth. It can also be the point at which we break free of political, professional or religious dogma and trust the inner self. That kind of faith is an often-overlooked pre-requisite to developing beliefs which are integrated with who we are and geared to the future.
Constructive fantasy can liberate the soul, ignite hope, renew the spirit and reduce our reliance on the past.
Jim Pilmer is a Melbourne Anglican priest.
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