Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Change Of Perspective

The Tuva people of Russia have an interesting concept: The future is behind us (songgaar), and we face the past (burungaar):
Tuvans believe the past is ahead of them while the future lies behind, not yet seen.
The future remains unseen, so it has to be behind them always. Contrast that with Western...indeed, most of the world's philosophy that says the future is laid out in front of us, just waiting to be found.
Particularly in America, there is a sense of predestination, that each of us is has a future to fulfill that's already written for us. The whole American dream, any kid can grow up to be President, and if we just work hard enough and apply ourselves, we can accomplish anything.
The past three decades have proven the folly of this myth. We can always improve our lot, and yes, hard work is important, but we became so results-oriented that we've ended up a nation of paranoid idiots, slaving away at jobs for people who barely acknowledge our existence, much less our humanity.
For an ambitious people, what made us give up so easily? Why are we content to eat the scraps off the table of someone who is only "better" than us based on a bank balance? Who probably got that money because of a genetic accident?
Here's where I think the Tuvans have it over the rest of the world: the inference one can reasonably take is that by placing the past in front of them, they force themselves to take careful stock of their lives. They look at what they've done so far, and study the lessons therein. More important, they make changes. Not in anticipation of some unseen future reward, but to improve who they are right now.
Ironic, isn't it, that so many of us in western culture are urged to "live in the now": stop thinking about the future, stop reliving the past, be who are you are right now. That's a clue that our society is kind of screwy, because that's diametrically opposed to the other cues we get: save money for a house or for retirement, save our immortal souls, plan for the future, stock up on supplies for Armageddon.
See, if you live in the now, you accept the change that future brings. You learn how to survive, and if you fail, you fail. You can't worry about what you don't know. We're stressed to the hilt because we all know, at 65 we're retiring, and shortly after that, we die, and we scratch and scramble to make our lives mean something.
The Tuvans make their lives mean something now, not for when they're gone.
There's something to be said about that.