The way you were

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By Tony Samson

THE PAST is a country we may have lived in and sometimes too hard to resist revisiting especially when we used to be at the top of it. Is it the default mode of old people, no longer in their prime not just in age but in status, to keep going back to the past?

Looking back too often is an unproductive approach. Even when times were glorious, celebrating fond memories, or for that matter, keeping old wounds of humiliation from closing, is an obstacle to moving on. Leaving the past in the unused attic of the mind to be visited only when requiring something from it, like a name or a lesson learned, works best.

Even high-profile status, once lost, should be left behind. Resting on old laurels refers to being content with past achievements and leveraging these to open doors and assert yourself. The laurels refer to the ancient practice in Rome when winners of chariot races or wars, even emperors and rulers, were given laurels to crown their heads to signify victory and prestige.

So, resting on old symbols of excellence denotes the irrelevance of shrubberies now faded and long past their blooming days deserving to be perched not on heads but under padded posteriors. Past triumphs do not always translate to future respect, seeming unconnected and irrelevant to the present — why bring that up?

While luncheon speakers are sometimes introduced by their “former” exalted positions, the mention of biographical history serves only to emphasize a descent, sometimes not always gradual or voluntary. Does such a person still have anything interesting to say? Maybe if he talks about the future.

Is it productive to dwell on the past?

Such a fixation is often associated with those no longer having anything to look forward to. Few things can be more boring than a formerly powerful person, even someone once at the top of the food chain (do you know who I am?) regaling anyone who cares to listen about now powerful people he used to boss around. Thus are old people ignored when repeating stories from long ago — he used to be my clerk in charge of company outings.


Still, the past should not be wasted. After all, isn’t the rationale of recycling and efforts to save Mother Earth premised on discarded objects brought back to usefulness? Attics are raided for discarded clothes that come back in the fashion cycle. Slim-fitting shirts that are unbuttoned and untucked were already in vogue in the ’60s, along with Panama hats. Paisley ties too can be dredged and worn to theme parties featuring a revival band singing retro songs.

Selling nostalgia can be good business for the gray market. It works on the premise that the good old days were in fact better than the present. The memory works with colored lenses and screens out the unpleasantness of times past. Thus is the version of a simpler and less problematic existence promoted. And this is a marketable illusion. The influx of concerts featuring bands and names vaguely remembered from the past can fill up small concert venues with generous seating areas for wheelchairs and nurses’ stations.

Living in the past arises from an unwillingness to tackle a troublesome present. It is a coping mechanism which bestows an inordinate importance to triumphs that only the triumphant remembers or values. Who cares if you were once a very important person (no acronym for it yet then) that many kowtowed to? These same fans and underlings have themselves risen in stature and consider you a bore to be tolerated.

It is surprising how a moderate amnesia for old glories can be refreshing to others. Modesty arising from a realization of the irrelevance of previous perches on now forgotten pedestals elicit warmer receptions.

If someone familiar with that period mentions, even just in small talk, your previously awe-inflicting status, it is best to shrug the whole thing off. Quickly, you can change the topic — do you read ebooks, my friend? Such a trivial reaction will make the other person wonder if you’re still all there.

It’s fine to be underestimated, if only to eventually surprise with delight that the way you were before is not at all the way you are now. No reminders are needed, after all.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.