I recently watched “Religilous” with Bill Maher and honestly rather enjoyed myself. While I would likely try to approach people in a slightly less abrasive manner (though I was rather impressed with how he managed to end most of his interviews with laughter and sometimes even a hug), I thought he made some really important points about the dangers of settling into a type of intellectual complacency in which we think we have all the answers and just stop asking questions. The movie ended with song lyrics that said “we know where we’re going, we just don’t know where we’ve been”.
In classic psychoanalytic theory, there is this notion that the goal of psychotherapy is to bring the unconscious aspects of our identity that guide and motivate our behavior and thinking into the active conscious. This is essentially a journey toward a fuller understanding of oneself and one’s place in the universe through increased awareness. Part of increasing awareness is facing our history, dealing with the hurt, and owning up to our mistakes.
But history scares us. It is often easier for us to deny history than to face it because we are terrified about what it means for us. We’re afraid of the negative emotions that sometimes come with facing our history. We find it easier to maintain a forward looking focus that does not require us to do the hard work of facing our past. Don’t cry over spilled milk. Unfortunately, this essentially never works out as we hope. Ignoring a problem does not generally make it go away, it just drives it further into our unconscious. We think it’s gone, but it’s still there, influencing our thoughts and behavior without our awareness.
Here’s why I think we all have a vested interest in participating in this process of facing our history and becoming more self-aware. Because each of us, whether consciously or unconsciously, have an impact on the world every single day of our lives through what we’ve done or what we’ve left undone. And we will continue to have an impact. I personally want to do everything I can to ensure that the impacts I leave are growing in a progressively positive manner.
It’s hard to know where I’m going if I don’t know where I’ve been. How do I know I’m going in the right direction? Or am even on the right path?