Looking backwards

We frequently hear that we need to have a vision, that we should look ahead, keep our eye on the goal. But some years ago a wise person told me that we also have to look

Why look backwards?

Imagine you were sailing from Durban to Mauritius. That takes a few days on a cruise liner. As you leave Durban all you see in front of you is blue ocean. As you look
forwards towards your goal of Mauritius it looks as though you are standing still. But if you look back towards Durban it is easy to see how first the harbour and then the Durban coastline gradually becomes smaller and smaller as you move away. An occasional look backwards is important when the vision is a long distance one, when the goal takes a while to reach.

Many of us find ourselves in the middle of a change process. Perhaps our company is making changes yet again. Or maybe we are going through a transition in our own lives.
Sometimes it feels as though we will never get to the end, that we will be in a permanent state of flux. It can be hard to stay motivated when the end looks far away. Looking back to see where we have come from allows a fresh perspective.

Last year I saw a performance of Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold and the Boys”. In this play set in 1950 Port Elizabeth, we see racism and bigotry play out in the interaction between a young boy and his mother’s employees. It reminded me of growing up in South Africa in the 70’s. It contrasted starkly with how I, my friends and my colleagues interact with people of all races nowadays. As we left the theatre there was a family ahead of us with teenage daughters. I overheard them talking to their father. They were saying it was just a play and no one would have said those things in real life. Their father was trying to explain the realities of apartheid in that South Africa. He could look back and see a change. They only know the ‘new South Africa’.

This year I saw Bailey Snyman’s dance play “Moffie” which highlights the attitude to homosexuals in the SADF of the early 80’s. This coincided with the time most of my friends did their national service. Whilst there is still prejudice in 2012 we now have legal same sex marriages and much of society is more accepting of sexual preference.
And then a couple of weeks ago we went to a screening of “Searching for Sugar Man”, the film about Rodriguez (well worth seeing). As a teenager, I remember listening
over and over to my sister’s Cold Fact album and singing along to “I wonder”.

The film flashes back to Cape Town in the late 70’s, showing its natural beauty, but also the obvious signs of apartheid like the “nie blanke” signs. There are also a few old news clips of protests and an SABC employee shows how the banned tracks on the LP were scratched to prevent them being played.

What all these films or plays had in common was that they made me look backwards. All this looking backwards created some perspective for me on where we are at in South Africa today. We still live in a most imperfect society but many things have changed for the better since the 50’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Occasionally looking backwards allows us to measure how far we have come, it encourages us that we are making progress and it inspires us to keep on moving forwards
towards our goal.

In your own life have you been working towards something for quite a while? Does it feel like you are always striving but perhaps not getting there?
Take a moment, look back, and see how far you have come. Recognise your achievement. And then look ahead and move on.

Closer Than Yesterday


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