The relationship we have with our past, present and future is guided by cultural factors. For instance, cultures that attach more importance to tradition will look more to the past to guide how they should behave in the present and future. Cultures where innovation is more the norm will pay less attention to the past and focus more on the future.
Only the present exists. The past has gone and what you know of it is not the past itself, it is your memory of it. The future has yet to come and also you can shape your future with what you do in the present, you do not know the future.
How can you know how you relate to your past, present and future. Research has used a clever exercise. Imagine each of them is a circle. What would your three circles look like? Would they have the same size? Would they touch each other? Would they overlap? Would they be completely separate? Maybe two touching or overlapping and one further apart?
Our ideas and feelings about past and future will affect our thinking in the present. They will affect our decision-making, how we see life and so on. All three, past, present and future will dictate our actions in the present. Our past experiences, the importance we give the future will influence the actions we take now. After all, all what we experienced in the past makes us what we are today. But it doesn’t have to decide completely who we will be tomorrow. It depends how much you relate to your past and your future.
Most of us are not good at delayed gratification. This is because we have a hard time imagining something happening in the middle or long term future. It is why we need milestones and successes to celebrate regularly when we are on our way to reaching a goal in the not near future. It is why we are good at instant gratification, whatever it is, and are not so good at imagining the consequences of it in the future.
How people or cultures relate to their past, present and future is not easy to appreciate. So what can you do to try and make sure there are no misunderstandings and blunders because of different appreciations of past, present and future?
If you deal at the level of an organisation, what that organisation says about itself with give clues. Is it emphasising its reputation, its long established brand (past), its customer service (more present) or its ability to innovate (future)? Looking at the organisation’s values will give you aan idea.
When it comes to dealing with individuals, it is more difficult. The best is just to be cautious. If you are more future or present oriented, don’t dismiss people’s ideas and feelings if they talk about their past or if they are wary about change and think future is uncertain and scary. As with everything else when you are in a different culture, being open and curious and explaining your own view will help.