You know what peripheral vision is. It is what you see out of the sides of your eyes. You see things that if you look straight at it, you wouldn't see it. You wouldn't because the details obscurce a larger vision.
The same idea can be applied to our hearing and our thinking.
Peripheral hearing is paying attention to what we hear, not listening for something specific. It is listening with wisdom and openness. It means laying aside our filters to hear what we miss by only looking for what we expect.
Peripheral thinking is what we miss when our thought process follows the same path every time. For many people, they might call this innovative thinking. For me, I see it as broadening or opening ourselves to areas of thought that are outside of our normal field of interest. My post, The Picture of the Future in a Box, is an example of learning about something that is totally outside my normal experience, and seeing in it connections to my understanding of the world that make sense.
Peripheral vision, hearing and thought expands our perception of the world. When we only focus on what we know, we lose that peripheral perspective. It is easy then to think that the past is a good indicator of the future.
In the post The End and the Beginning, I began with ...
What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?
Let me over simplify what it means to bring the past into the future. I do so, not because it is simple, only to make a point.
Two Ways the Past Enters the Future
What I observe in people is that the past provides an experience of validation, or affirmation, or a sense of stability and continuity. It seems comfortable and secure because it has already been experienced.
This attitude and behavior is often viewed as traditionalism. Meaning, the traditions of the past are the basis of how we interpret what the future should be.
We can hear this in the criticism by some people I know of social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter which seem to trivialize human relationships. I am sure that many relationships formed through social media means are superficial. But, so are many that are in our normal day-to-day interactions. The technology isn't trivial or superficial. People are.
There is also a tendency in this type of traditionalism toward homogenity, where like joins with like, and a community is formed around common ideas and experiences to the exclusion of those which are different. This is how a community can become narrow, closed and parochial.
When the past is all we know, and we expect tomorrow to be like yesterday, then we begin to look only for those ideas and experiences which validate our perception of the past. Those that don't are resisted, or worse attacked as a threat to what is true or right. This closed mindedness is part of the source of the divisiveness that we see in society today.
Traditionalism works within the limited parameters of a closed system or community. It may work until change threatens to disrupt its equilibrium. This traditionalism is not limited by philosophic outlook. It is a product of human attitude and behavior. It happens when a group or community become protective of their tradtions rather than adaptive with them.
This is the second way that the past can be brought into the future. We do so through might be called living traditions, which are experienced through open awareness and adaptation.
The past has value for the future, but only in context.
For example, many of the towns around where I live were developed around a manufacturing business. Over the years, more and more of these plants have closed as textile and furniture manufacturing moved overseas. These towns diminished in size and economic vitality as a result. The traditions of these towns made it hard for many to realize that there are opportunities that may exist if they were to open themselves to a new way of understanding the assets of their local community. To do so meant that they would have to change.
Two decades ago, while serving in a small college in Appalachia, a summer on-campus enrichment program was started that was designed for eighth grade children from the coal fields. It had a great response because parents of these children understood that the well-paying jobs in the mines would not be there for their children in the future. They understood, were aware, that their children needed a better education than what they received if they were going to make it in the world.
What their children learned at home was the value of family and hard work. And they brought that into their experience at the college.
This is also true for many of those who served in the Armed Forces in World War II, who returned home and took advantage of the G.I. Bill to earn a college degree in order to provide a more financially stable lifestyle for their families.
What they brought into the future from the past were values that gave them the ability to shift and change and adapt to changing circumstances. Values of openness, inquiry, situational awareness and a willingness to try new things.
The future just doesn't happen. It is the product of decisions that are in reaction and in response to changes in society.
Traditionism holds to a form of the past that is embedded in institutions and social forms that are not allowed to change. They are symbolic of the past, but often have lost the vitality that the values underlying those traditions once had.
This was true of the textile mill for whom I once did a project. The company had not changed how it was organized and functioned in 60 years. There was a form of tradition that was predictable and comfortable, and was not suited to the marketplace. Finally, a member of the family brought some awarness to the rest of the family, and change began to happen. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. The company closed and opportunity with it.
Traditional values can seek ways to adapt to changing circumstances. Living values bring a vitality to any situation. They are ones that provide strength and direction for how to manage change. These values are what unite people together to make the hard decisions, and take committed action. It isn't just passion or commitment that matters. It isn't just tradition. It is the importance of values whose clarity is realized in an open awareness that enables leaders, their organizations and communities to adapt to the constant changing circumstances of their life and work situation.
The past that is brought into the future is not a relic of a by-gone era, but the motivation and heart that inspired others in the past to create the traditions that today still matter. If your organization is floundering, drifting, or has no clear sense of its future. Begin by reflecting on the values of the past, and ask how can we live this values out today in the work that we do.
See the past as a set of living traditions, is to see with your peripheral vision of the mind that enables us to project the best of the past into the future.