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When the Past is Inconvenient

Updated: Feb 12

How can one know when the past is still relevant? In Hebrew, we have the saying, "What has happened has already happened", but what it fails to realize at times is the possibility that the past is only relevant when it is convenient, not when it is actually relevant objectively.

If you wish to put the past behind you, even if past events are still of current value, you can just discard them by claiming that they are no longer relevant, even if they are relevant for someone else.

Because of that, the worth of the events of the past is pretty much subjective. This statement is especially relevant when regarding the settlement of Israel/Palestine. One of the reasons why the State of Israel was created was because, in the Jewish Bible, God promised Abraham the land of Israel to be settled by his descendants.

That's one of the reasons pro-Israel supporters will use when justifying the foundation of our country: the fact that it was already promised thousands of years ago. As to whether or not that event is still relevant today is not something that can be agreed upon universally, just like any other past event, regardless of how old said event has been or whether it is still relevant or not. In this case, the event actually happened.

It is easy to discard the past and to hold it dear to one's heart, because much of its value is subjective and therefore hard to conclude universally. Thus, how can one determine the true value of a past event when one's perception of it is biased by emotion or by overlooking disregard?

That is the problem with telling history, as well as any other type of event that is more personal: it will arguably always be biased by something that makes the event's value overrated or underrated.

Take note that, unless a general agreement is reached, the very thing that defines us is fogged by bias that might make one look at the past through "goggles" that make one see things that didn't actually exist back then.

The opposite may also apply: make one ignore central aspects of a past event that helped shape it. Since much of who we are is arguably defined by the past, our own self-definition and self-image are blurred by subjective bias.

This bias, whether overlooking or underrating, can make one mislead their own worth, and thus be farther from understanding their true selves. In other words, if a central event from the past is overlooked by you, then you will find it more difficult to understand yourself in the aspects regarding said event.

To explain it even further: if you fail to find the true value of your past, if there is such a thing at all, then you would delude yourself regarding your identity, simply because of the past's dominating influence on who you are today.

This is one of the reasons why I like contemplating the past, because I know that the past has a core influence on who I am today. When I see a video game that I really liked and played with as a child, only to find its actual value being lower than imagined, I then understand that my past was deluded by a vision of something greater than it actually was.

What is, even, true value in one's past, when much of said value is defined by sentiment, nostalgia and so on? Who can truly call a past event relevant or irrelevant, just because of a current whim or denial?

When a pro-Israel supporter claims that there were Jewish states and never a Palestinian one throughout history, who am I and who are you to determine, whether that fact actually matters, when it comes to the legitimacy of the Palestinian people to create their own nation?

That is the problem with the past, and indirectly, the problem within self-realization -- the fact that major events could be discarded as irrelevant, just as minor events could be seen as more than they actually were back then. Due to this indirect reasoning, knowing oneself is more problematic than one may think, as our identities depend on things that have little to no objective criteria.

The value of the past isn't as exact as monetary value. When a dollar is worth around 3-4 shekels, there is little doubt that could be said otherwise when it comes to trading and economy. No one has the legitimacy to come to a store in Israel or abroad and just say "This is a special dollar that worth 30 shekels!", simply because they have no authority in altering monetary value.

The case is different when it comes to memory. Just about any kind of memory could be once a very major one, only to be overlooked by future memories, only to be returned to an even greater value, when nostalgia eventually kicks in.

The perception of the past, therefore, could be as fluid as water, and deluding as colour-changing glasses. That perception is as important as it is misleading, simply because it is difficult to truly determine the true worth of a past event, when there are deluding biases in the way that make us remember the same event differently.

And the thing is, no one can truly be right when it comes to past's value. We might know whenever an event is historic or not, but when it comes to personal or interpersonal events, just about everything in that category can be seen differently, even though the participation in said event was the same.

Thus, the most practical thing we can do when it comes to self-assessment is to focus on one's current perception on past events, rather than the events themselves. When I recall December 2013, where I first interacted with Ms. Chen, it was a life-changing event for me, because it was a beginning for me to become more solitary. However, for her it was another Thursday.

When she discarded me so easily a few months later, I was quite in shock because I really didn't expect that someone who wanted to talk with me, was so quick to see me as unnecessary.

Almost an entire decade later, when I confronted her about that, she dismissed inconvinently the value of the entire thing. Now, how can one determine which perspective is the truest? Perhaps both perceptions are true, even though they are complete opposites?

I believe that, subjectivity does not transcend reality, because even subjectivity is based on real experience of real things, whether fiction or nonfiction, honest as dishonest. Because of that, even subjective notions could contain things that are true, and if not entirely true, then partially true.

Even opinions are based on reality, and when it comes to personal opinions, then we should not discard them, as the personal is based on an existent person; an object within reality, which makes the opinions a part of reality too. This is why I don't disregard completely the value of subjectivity, even though they are harder to analyse beyond the personal aspect.

Because subjectivity does not surpass reality, then the rules of reality do not skip over it. If a past event is seen as relevant or irrelevant, then the notion is either true or not, regardless of emotional attachment or lack thereof.

When a video game that I really liked is bad, then it is bad regardless of the love I had for it; if said game had positive things that made me love it, then that game is not completely bad, all thanks to these traits that made me love it.

Subjectivity, even if not true entirely, is still grounded in reality, and because of that, the subjectivity held towards past things and beings should not be discarded completely.

Thus, when my event with that woman eventually led me to the person I am today, then that event has greater value to me as there was of little value to her. This is why the personal aspect is still of value when assessing the past, regardless of how misleading it could actually be.

Ultimately, there is a need to distinguish between the misleading parts of subjectivity, and the parts that could in theory lead to greater truth and revelations.

To disregard subjective experience entirely, would be like throwing the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. In other words, truth does not have to be universal, and truths that contradict one another could still exist.

That is because, in the end, much of what we appreciate in life, is relative to us, and that doesn't necessarily have to lead to a paradox, when someone else does not appreciate it as much as we may do.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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