Forward, or Back?

A younger friend is in the planning stages of a surprise event for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. She asked me, since I am of an age with those parents, to mention some of the significant events of “the sixties.” Her intention is to link her parents’ years of marriage to marker events they would have lived through.

I’ve met her parents, and know them to be of a different world view than mine, more conservative and less traveled, but teachers and caring, engaged individuals. I tried to name events that might have personal meaning to them, not just the by-now-made-trite-by-media images of hippies, Woodstock, anti-war protests, long hair and drugs. Together, my friend and I came up with a list of singers, TV shows, commercial logos and slogans, hair and clothing trends, popular movie stars, and also specific political events of the sixties that have shaped the succeeding years.

One of the personal experiences I shared was of being made to turn in my credit cards, acquired as a single woman, when I married a man who did not have a credit record. I was not considered, legally, enough of a person in my own right to have a credit rating separate from that of my husband of the time. To this day, I have never again shopped in the stores that so denigrated me, nor held a credit card from the company that made me turn mine in. Looking back to that event, I would say society has progressed somewhat as regards the status of women.

Looking forward, since the election, to probable legislation and legal decisions affecting woman, I regretfully believe that we are a very short step away from a return to the non-person-hood of women reflected in my credit experience.

Eric Francis, of PlanetWaves, has just posted an amusing and pointed essay about laws requiring men to have permission from two doctors, attesting to the man’s intent to create life because he has access to a fertile egg, before that man may ejaculate (see his essay through Facebook or at

I did not begin this essay with the intent to rant on how close we have come to full circle, from the constraints on women in the early sixties, to those being imposed again now. I intended to write about the differences between people who tend to look forward to what comes next in their lives, and those who tend to look back at what used to exist in those lives. The forward lookers generally seem happier, more open, more accepting people. The backward lookers strike me most often as sad, missing what has passed, finding little or no pleasure in their daily experience – and urgently trying to drag everyone else down into their own depression and regret.

I work with people who are in pain, who are sick, who have lost much of their independence and freedom to choose to walk down the driveway to the mailbox, or to dress themselves without help, or to cook a meal. One woman has been on dialysis for ten years, and recently spent nine months in a nursing home after she fell and broke a hip. She is a forward looker: an artist, a grandmother teaching her granddaughter to carry on the family tradition of pottery-making, while she herself explores new forms in clay.

A few days ago, I met with a couple who are split – the husband is totally focused backward on all that, due to severe pain, he can no longer do. He won’t have someone come to build an entrance ramp to his house because “people will see that he, who worked construction all his life, is no longer capable of this project.” His wife also speaks mostly of how she raised six children and ran a household while holding down a job, of how limited she is now, and dependent on her youngest son to cook meals and clean the house.

Until her husband leaves the room.

Then she shares how much she enjoyed a five day visit to a grown daughter’s home, even though she had the same mobility limitations on vacation as she does at home. She would be a forward looker, were she not being dragged inexorably down into negativity and backward-looking regret by her husband.

It would be easy, just now, for me to lament the direction our government seems to be taking, and to look backward to even ten years ago, when we were celebrating new accomplishments by women and expecting ever more equity in the workplace. But looking backward means, to me, having little hope, few aspirations, no sense of adventure and no courage. It may not be pleasant looking toward what I expect to emerge from Congress and the Supreme Court over the next few years. It is nonetheless necessary to do so, and to do so with determination not to be overwhelmed.

I recommend the use of inner resources, inner resolve, and a conviction that there is merit to the saying that “it is always darkest before the dawn.” Given how unexpectedly a new love relationship, a new purpose and a new energy arrived in my own life, I must attest to a certainty that “anything is possible” if one remains focused on looking forward, open to possibilities, and expecting the best.

Expecting the best is one of the attitudes listed on the Alternatives to Violence Project mandala – a circle with Transforming Power at its center; caring for self and others, respect for self and others, seeking a peaceful solution and expecting the best in a surrounding ring; and an assortment of techniques to be used in an outer ring – techniques like humor, patience, courtesy, surprise and caring. That ring of techniques keeps expanding, as workshops held in prisons across the country, and in tension-filled countries around the world, teach people how to find non-violent solutions to conflicts. The techniques are equally effective for maintaining a positive focus in one’s own life, and for bringing one back into awareness of the strength of spirit we all possess.

The backward-lookers may have won some recent political elections – they will NOT run my life. Please don’t let them run yours!

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2 Responses to “Forward, or Back?”

  1. Jane Foraker-Thompson Says:

    I enjoyed your comments and observations on “forward-lookers” and “backward-lookers” this week Niki.

  2. Cheryl @ Artzzle Says:

    Lots for consideration here, as I am caught somewhere betwixt and between the backwards and forwards lookers. But I’m in total agreement with your last statement!

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