Two of the most popular sayings we hear nearly every day are in conflict with each other. One is absolutely ridiculous and always has been, while the other actually offers insight and wisdom. These are:
“Hindsight is 20/20.” – Billy Wilder
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
While both of these adages are generally accepted as axiomatic, if the first were true, the second would be meaningless. If our vision of the past were flawless, we would not continue to repeat our mistakes; yet we can learn from the past and increase the chances that we avoid repeating our mistakes.
Your perception of the past, however, may be flawed, influenced by your own biases and pre-conceptions and, while we obviously can learn from the mistakes in our past, our blind spots make it challenging to do so. Thus, the cycle continues.
There is new research which suggests that, while some people are simply wired differently and in ways that make learning difficult, others have trouble dealing with the emotional turmoil that can result from exploring mistakes in their pasts. While further research into both of these areas will likely tell us more, these results seem to imply that self-examination of previous decisions and actions is a learned trait, as are so many maxims that we tend to take for granted as absolute truths.
Simply accepting them on “instinct” or “intuition” can lead to feeling stuck.
The realization that you made an error in judgment or that your actions were in conflict with your values can be deflating. Your ego may not be up to the challenge of accepting responsibility for these types of mistakes, making hindsight completely blind to the choices you might have made instead. However, if you are able to examine your past objectively, you’ll no longer be “condemned to repeat” previous blunders – hence the value of having a strong team of peers with whom you agree to listen to and share your truths.