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Is this the year when the world looks back and says ‘we really should have done better’? We really should have dealt with unmitigated corruption, greed, exploitation, extraction and destruction, back when it was possible to turn this Titanic around —

Is this the year when the reveal on the damage done makes for an enormous Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda?

Maybe it’s possible to have:

Been kinder

Woken up earlier

Been more careful

Demanded justice

Been more outspoken

Used more imagination to tackle things that were thought to be hopeless, idealistic, impossible…

I am not one of those people who thinks it’s best to just let the past go. I grew up around positive thinkers who repeatedly did some of the most absurd and myopically hurtful things you can imagine. In the name of self-care, and strange more-bliss-than-thou righteousness an awful lot of selfishness has taken place and was justified as “the best we could at the time” — I have a rough time with that line.

I prefer to dig deep and wide, to search for perspectives I may have missed. I am compelled from within to find the scope and the shape of the illusions that I have fallen prey to. I definitely revisit my mistakes. Not to harp on them or wallow in inane puritanical guilt, but find the blind spots. Or at least try.

I am not a ‘forgive and forget’ person. Especially when people have been hurt by my mistakes. I want to rigorously study and learn about what happened, in me, in my situation, between us. I want to not repeat the issue. I do not want to be forgiven, I want to expand my perception so that I might become sensitive to whatever I did not see that allowed me to injure another person.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20. Later on it is easier to see what went wrong. As the contexts come into view over time it is possible to make sense of the mistake with what appears to be new information. But it’s not new. That context was there all the time. It was just invisible. And, the learning does not stop, as time passes, insight expands, even more context comes into view.

Sensitivity grows. Like learning to tell the difference between running on the grass at the park and not running on your grandmother’s newly sprouting flower garden. It is possible to enhance the receptive systems to take in dangers that are one step removed from my own immediate experience. They are not my flowers, and maybe I don’t even care for flowers, but I care for my grandma. So too I may not notice the working conditions of the people that sew or dye my clothing, I may not notice the die-off the of the soil bacteria due to the chemicals in my kitchen, I may not be concerned about the gathering of other people’s personal information through their tech devices… not my problem. Until one day I have another sensitivity, one that recognizes, in hindsight that their freedom, health, and vitality was in fact inextricably tied to my own.

It is possible to perceive more context. A fisherman/woman who fishes in a particular river knows how to read the ripples in the water's current, knows the seasons, knows without knowing they know, when and where to drop the line and with what sort of lure or bait. The conditions change from hour to hour, week to month but their sensitivity and ability to read to the context is an ever-expanding process of learning. Raising children I have learned that there are times when I 'know' to be more stern than other times; the same infraction can produce very different responses from me based on the day, the circumstance and the child’s emotional resilience in that moment. We pay attention, we adjust, we learn.

For me, showing up in 2020 is about not shying away from the horrors of the past. But also not basking in the pain of having been party to those horrors, (which is equally self-serving). I have benefitted from the exploitation of others and the natural world. Sick but true. There is nothing to gain by justifying or denying that fact. My comfort has been made possible by the suffering of others. There are generations of pain, trauma, and confusion that have been produced by the systems that give me my food, clothing, transportation, banking, and everything else in my world. No point in pretending that is not true. Even though my family has been advocating for the interdependency of life across many fields for at least three generations, I am still dressed in blood. The illusions that have made this life are ghosting around me, they always will be.

So now what? All I know to do is to listen, to watch carefully, to keep trying to make sense from different angles. One thing I am starting to get the hang of is igniting suspicion toward those impulsive solutions that appear at first to make the most logical and rational sense, recognizing that they are probably informed by the same systems that created the problems to begin with. I am in rapid wide-angle receptivity mode, — all senses on. I am watching the scaffolding of the last century of exploitation pixilate and melt. I am sad, mad, lost, sorry, and grateful. Ready to scream louder, touch softer, think harder, run faster, watch more carefully.

Do not forgive me, do not forget what has happened. It is me who must make the move. I will. I will stay alert, stay learning, stay honest to not-knowing. I am here now to tend, to offer, to generate, to witness.

Hindsight is sliding around on the slopes of time. Not just looking back — but forward as well.

Hindsight is looking into the eyes of future generations without excuses.

Hindsight is 2020.

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Written by

Filmmaker, writer, educator, lecturer, President of the International Bateson Institute. Books: Small Arcs of Larger Circles 2016, Warm Data *upcoming 2019

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