Guest Thought from Kelsey Taylor
Nostalgic is one of those things that most people like to be; 90’s kids make Facebook groups or start forums where they talk about the awesome TV shows they used to watch and how they are infinitely better than Anything That Ever Was And Will Be. “You kids don’t know what you’re missing!” they say. “Your childhood did not involve Robert Munsch or Pokémon and therefore is not as good as mine.”
Everyone has an image of an old relative or the grumpy old man on the porch who is convinced that they lived in the “good old days”, and that society is on a downward spiral. “Things just aren’t what they used to be,” they say.
People like to talk about what they’re nostalgic about, but don’t really think about why it can be a problem.
The middle-aged guy who can’t stop talking about how high school or university were the best years of his life: what about everything else? Maybe you’re married. Maybe you have kids, and if you do I’m sure they are an important part of your life. You might not, but I’m sure you have friends and other people who are important to you. You might have a job, and if you don’t like your job I’m sure you have some sort of hobby. You probably read a newspaper, have opinions, and care about things. Or did you write off the rest of your life when you graduated?
People will talk about how “chivalry is dead,” but forget that there was a feminist movement that started in between then and now. Sometimes we get the sense that “old-fashioned” things are more sophisticated, and a lot of this gets ascribed to our conceptions of what is romantic, for example.
Nostalgia is looking at the past through tinted glasses, remembering everything that was good but forgetting the things that weren’t so great. Or, they might’ve worked for you, but maybe some people or groups weren’t having the best time. We also have new inventions, new books, new senses of humour, new ways of understanding the world. The present is pretty awesome; we shouldn’t be viewing it through a lens of the past.
Remembering our past is an entirely different thing, though. Things that remind us of the past give us a good feeling, and that’s not a bad thing. That song that reminds you of drunk nights in university, that time you studied abroad, your wedding, whatever, might make you smile because it is linked to a good memory. Maybe you have an inside joke with an old friend, and it will make you laugh to yourself while you’re taking the bus to work. You get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the act of remembering, and we generally call this “nostalgia”. These memories and associations are part of what construct our individual narratives. They are part of our identity. We are the culmination of our life experiences: my personality was certainly shaped, in part, by the fact that I was obsessed with Pokémon as a child or that I know all the actions to “Stop” by the Spice Girls. …Somehow.
The difference, I think, is when we make value judgements about the past. Nostalgia in the abstract is fine – and the things we choose to emphasize and remember make up who we are. Our past definitely influences our present.
We just have to remember that everyone has experiences, and we shouldn’t let our past define our present so much that we forget to live now.