by Zoe Weil

Take a look at this RSA Animate video of Phil Zimbardo’s The Secret Powers of Time (10:08 min):

As I watched this, I wondered what it would take for all of us to have a healthy balance of past, present, and future orientation, so that we would all be able to learn from and appreciate our pasts, live fully in our presents, and be cognizant of and choose wisely based upon the goals we have for the future.

I do not think that it is all that wise for most people to live predominantly in one of these categories and neglect the others.

While it’s commonplace today for busy, future-oriented people (like me, I’d add) to strive to live “in the present,” I think the real goal for people like me ought to be to live more in the present, and to find that elusive balance that enables us to be fully engaged right now, while able and willing to reflect upon the past and eager to live in a way that creates a positive and healthy future for ourselves and others.

When Phil Zimbardo discusses the ways in which our children are now digitally rewired and fundamentally different than their parents in relation to time, and points out the ways in which traditional schooling is a disaster for so many kids – boys in particular – one wonders what the solution might be to raise a generation that is balanced in regard to time in today’s world.

There are many ideas that lead to this balance for our children: time spent in nature, where wonder may be cultivated; unstructured play time; and limited screen time to allow for a leisurely present that leads to joy and creativity in the early years of life, that is later balanced with lessons in history (past-oriented) and exploration of current conflicts and problems (in the present) that elicit creative ideas for system-changes and solutions (for a healthy future).

It’s time to abandon any judgments about which orientation is “best,” as the early part of Phil Zimbardo’s talk reveals is happening in Italy, and to do away with the idea that our goal should be to “live in the present” or “wisely plan for the future” or “focus on learning from the past.”

We need all of these aspects of ourselves together to lead lives that are joyful and wise, and we need to raise a generation that has the capacity to find the healthiest balance, too.

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