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Past, Present, Future

January 2011
Past, Present, Future Dear PMG:

It seems to me that the older people get, the more they look to the past or the future. They just don’t seem to live in the present.

My grandparents are always telling me about how great things used to be in their village in India and then in their early years of married life in Mumbai (or Bombay as it was known then). In the village, everyone knew each other and looked out for each other. And in the city, the streets were clean and the movies were even cleaner.

My parents are always telling me that I have to think about the future. I better study hard for my upcoming SAT exams so that I can get into a good college. In college, I’ll need to select a major that will get me a good job. And then after graduation, I’ll need to get married, settle down, and plan for retirement. Okay, they don’t talk much about marriage and retirement, but it’s always “SAT, college, job; SAT, college, job.”

Whatever happened to living in the moment? There’s so much to do today. I love to hang out with friends, play video games, go to the latest Harry Potter movie, work out to keep my body fit, and, of course, keep up with my homework. I’d like to enjoy my youth while I still have it and not become a dreamer looking in the rearview mirror like my grandparents or a worrywart squinting into the far horizon like my parents.

Dear Friend,

“The future depends on what we do in the present.” (M. K. Gandhi)

With 2010 behind us, and the New Year ahead, your query is quite timely. There is much merit in what you say about “living in the moment.” Indeed, modern social psychology encourages individuals and teams to “be here now.” This limits distractions and enables people to focus on what is immediately in front of them.

Having said that, there is a need to be informed by the past. One reason to study history is to not repeat the mistakes of those who came before us; also, we can learn from what they did right and emulate them in the modern context (truth be told, that’s the premise of this column: take Gandhian thought from the last century and apply it to current dilemmas).

And, as Gandhiji suggests, what we do today will impact tomorrow, the day after, and the years ahead. You mentioned working out. I’ll assume that you exercise because it feels good and helps you look great. If done regularly, today’s workout will also enable a lifetime of good health and discipline.

Perhaps you can coax your grandparents to enjoy life as they experience it with you right now, and you can help your parents pull back to 2011 from 2020. At the same time, you can soak in the ancestral stories from the Indian villages, and make sure that you make the most of your present so as to not compromise the satisfying and meaningful future that informs parental hopes.

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