Present-Tense Pitfalls

Living only in the here and now can be dangerous in the long run if you don’t invest in your future.
Present-Tense Pitfalls
The first-time parents of a newborn, lacking in sleep, may be too tired to think about the future for the time being. (William Fortunato/
Jeff Minick

From consultations with a 21st-century therapist to the Bible—“Take therefore no thought for tomorrow"—we often read or hear that living in the present is healthier than dwelling on the past or wishing ourselves into the future. By abolishing the ball-and-chain of our yesterdays and the oftentimes equally heavy leg irons of our future expectations, the argument goes, we’re free to focus our energies on matters at hand.

Most of the time, that advice is solid. Step out of the time machine of our minds, whether traveling backward or forward, and we can indeed engage more fully with our present tasks and difficulties.

Like most guidelines, however, this one has its exceptions and flaws.

Consider, for example, the new parents of a 4-month-old whose notion of a sleep schedule is two hours in the Land of Nod and three hours awake. Mom and Dad are so exhausted that they’ve forgotten what it means to bag eight hours of sack time, and as first-time parents, they can’t at the moment even imagine that their little girl may one day slumber blissfully through the night. Stuck as they are in the now, the comfort of that hope doesn’t exist for them.

Or imagine a 21-year-old who washes dishes in the evenings in a restaurant. During the day, he sleeps, plays electronic games, and hangs out with friends until it’s time to go to work again. He’s living fully in the moment, but if he remains deaf to his past—he had dreams at 15 of becoming a park ranger—and blind to his future, he’ll likely wake one day and wonder how life passed him by.

The fallacy and danger of living only for the day are readily apparent in a myriad of ways in our society at large. Our federal government, for instance, is spending more than $6 million every minute of every day, heedless of historic caveats about the dangers of debt and the damage being done economically to future generations. Closer to home, millions of Americans are running up their credit card debt, with some of them living beyond their means, ignoring the warnings of experience and possible future consequences.

Conversely, when we operate on a full spectrum of time, bringing lessons from the past and aspirations for the future to the duties, joys, and sorrows of the present, we better manage our affairs, become more fully human, and increase our potential for doing good in the world.

Imagine that young scrubber of pots and plates living with this blended philosophy of time, of past, present, and future functioning together side by side. He continues to work in the evenings, knowing he needs the income and nourishing the pride that comes from paying his own way, but during the day he attends classes in the fish and wildlife management program at the nearby community college. He pursues the cherished dreams of his adolescence and works toward his goal of becoming a game warden.

Once again, as is so often the case, balance is all. Whether our past was sunshine and roses or rainy days without end, we can learn from that history if we refuse to lose ourselves in the nostalgia of a Miniver Cheevy or become bogged down by past grievances and suffering. As for the future, Rudyard Kipling’s “If” contains this ideal scale for taking the proper measure of our desires: “If you can dream, and not make dreams your master.”

The wise among us use their dreams as a lodestar without becoming so entranced that they lose sight of the importance of the present.

We human beings tend to buy into the either-or fallacy, in this case, the false dichotomy that we must choose between living in the past and living in the present or between the present and the future. That idea is simply wrongheaded. If we can instead embrace a healthy union of times past, present, and future, we are then equipped to become our best selves.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.
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