The Rear View Mirror Paradox

People often speak of how “things are different now” as though the entire world has changed and only they have stayed the same.  It is a refrain I have heard my entire life especially from, shall we say, more mature persons.  Now that there is gray in my beard I notice I even say it time to time although there seems to be a differentiating dependent clause attached to “things are different now” and it can go opposite ways.  It reads like this:

“Things are different now, they were better…”


“Things are different now, ain’t it cool?”

To my experience there’s a school of thought that turns to positive reflection and negative vision; people offer that the best is in the rear-view mirror and they appear to focus on what ‘has been’ not ‘what is’.  In motorcycling this a bad, bad habit.  If you devote too much attention to the mirrors (especially at inappropriate times) you place yourself at intense risk in the right now and the immediate future.  Do I check my mirrors?  Dang straight, only a fool never looks back!  At stoplights I’ll pay extra attention to make sure what’s behind me doesn’t send me into the glorious, heavenly future.  Last time I checked about six percent of motorcycle accidents involved getting smacked from behind.  

How often do riders get struck from behind while moving? I have no idea but I would imagine it’s pretty rare.  Seen it around my neighborhood a couple of times, mostly at night if memory serves.  Riders tend to obsess about stoplights and stacked lanes and that’s not a bad thing because at the end of a long line of cars waiting to turn right at the bottom of an off-ramp if you’re the last guy in line you’re in a spot that should make you uneasy about the next person bailing off the freeway.  

But what about the bulk of your riding time?  Are you checking your six and then getting on with life or are you squinting into the reflection trying to figure out what you missed back there or where you’ve been?  Context is very important in this calculation because you should be worrying about things like:  Where are you? What should you be worried about?  When will you arrive?  How will you deal with things around you?  

This is were transformation comes into play.  I believe that things don’t change that much.  I believe that instead of the world changing around us, we change the way we perceive the world around us.  How is that possible, when there is sooo much change around us?  Simple:  we transform the way we view change itself.  Instead of watching the road in front of us we can become overburdened with looking to the past and then not applying it to the future.

Does that make sense?   I mean to say that as we view the past we don’t accept that what happened, worked, didn’t work are just as applicable today.  As we transform into adults, or middle age, or our golden years, we don’t view the past in any kind of context except “it was different then…it was better then”.  Example:  I have kids in their early twenties.  They tend to stay up too late at night and sleep too late in the day…especially on weekends.  Two major options come to mind in dealing with this; first, I can get angry because today’s youth is soooo irresponsible blah, blah, blah and get all “back in the day” on them OR, I can realize that back in the day I’d stay out way too late at night and then sleep as long as I could get away with.  Things are as they always were.  

‘Nother example:  Teen Pregnancy.  I was listening to my dear mother complain about girls getting knocked up in high school.  Asking, “Didn’t that happen back in the day?” My sainted mother then went on to tell me all about the girl who she knew had been pregnant.  I asked, “What happened to her” and got a “She went to live with relatives in (name your faraway state)”.  My next, best question was, “DId any other girls move to Kansas to help their Aunt/Sister/Grandma with the farm or the new baby or anything like that?”  

Yeah, girls got pregnant in the 1940’s society deals with it differently now.  Girls carry to term and try to stay in school.  The shaming and shunning is gone.  It’s right there in your face now–it doesn’t move to Kansas and return a year later a little broader of hip, world worn or soul weary.  Sure the world has changed how these girls are dealt with but the real question is do you look in the mirror and focus there to fix what’s in front of you?  On a bike our vision to what’s behind us is very, very limited–mostly by ourselves.  Ride a bike and you know what I mean.  

Riders get a wonderful view of their elbows and shoulders as they look into a 3 inch by 4 inch portal to the past, it’s a amazingly myopic view and there’s a time and a place to watch what’s behind you like a hawk.  The paradox is how to use the rear view constructively and not at the expense of the Now and the Future.  Things are not that different back there and what we’ve passed through should be applied to what awaits.  In the past we may have paid a toll but by looking back with longing we often create a vitriol for the future–or even for the people we see paying the toll behind us; how could they not have seen that coming?  The same way you didn’t.

It’s a paradox how to integrate the past into the future without losing our context of the moment.

Be Safe.