Dealing with the past can sometimes be an arduous task. It largely depends on how painful the past was. The past is not something that is fixed with an independent existence. The past is how you remember it. It is something that you construct and reproduce from a set of memories in a number of different ways. In other words the past is our historical memory of a particular period.
The best way to deal with the past is through pure acceptance. The arrow of time is constantly moving forward and henceforth there is nothing that you can do to change it. Revisiting the past must only be done with the sole intention of learning from it and moving forward. There is very little point in worrying about something that has happened and you no longer have the opportunity to influence it. However, it is crucial to realise what you can influence is the future. Indeed it is. The pain orchestrated by the divisions and conflicts of the past never die. As a consequence residual hurt and resentments are reproduced. The capacity to let go of a particular memory of the past, to forge another memory or interpretation that allows people to relinquish the quest for revenge is at the heart of what many understand by forgiveness. Unless people manage to forsake their determination to get even, there can be no new beginning, no transformation of relationship; everyone will remain imprisoned in a particular history (or mythology), recycling old crimes and hatreds – with the present dominated by a particular collective memory of the past.
Dealing with past refers to a process comparable to that of forgiveness. Forgiveness can be at the interpersonal level – forgiving identifiable perpetrators. It can also be at the more anonymous collective level of forgiving history – coming to terms with the pain of the past in such a way as to free oneself from the determining force of a particular collective memory, forming a new memory that creates the symbolic space for people to orient themselves towards a new future which allows for the possibility of reconciliation with past opponents.
There are three conditions that are necessary to deal with the past.
a) peace and security
One clear and necessary precondition for people to ‘move on’ is the experience of a clear break from the painful past. A key element in this is an end to the bloodshed, violence and abuse. To begin to have hope for the future, a core constituent of any reconciliation process, people must experience a significant degree of personal and collective security. The experience of political and identity-driven violence must become a memory, rather than a lived experience in the here-and-now.
In addition to personal and collective peace and security, always a matter of degree, many would argue that people also need to perceive some degree and form of ‘justice’ being implemented in order to experience a break with the past and lay it to rest. At the heart of most common-sense notions of justice is the idea of ‘making things right’ through some combination of punishment of perpetrators and/or the compensation of victims.
In the growing body of literature relating to reconciliation in societies emerging out of violent, destructive conflict and gross human rights abuse there is regular reference to the significance of unveiling and acknowledging the truth about the criminal acts and wrongs of the past as a necessary condition for people to move on individually and collectively.
These constitutive elements or values of peace, justice and truth that help people forgive the past do not rest easily together. Too great a concern with ensuring peace and security and avoiding a resumption of violence can mean that truth and justice are forfeited. But too active a pursuit of justice in societies emerging out of division can result in a return to violent conflict and bloodshed. Moreover, if the value of truth is prioritised above all else, then this can come at the cost of justice. After all, why should perpetrators disclose the full extent of their crimes if they will thereby incriminate themselves and condemn themselves to judicial punishment?
Time heals everything (or at least it significantly takes the edge of the past). Constant thoughts of different course of actions you could have taken and all the what-ifs that come with it halt progress. Think of it this way… you make mistakes (others make mistakes)… you cannot reverse any of it… you cannot influence the other person in anyway but what you can do is to look at yourself and change yourself. If you feel that you have hurt someone in the past, don’t dwell on it. Instead accept it and say to yourself that next time you won’t do it. Positive changes are the need of the hour.
The pain that you feel from a failed relationship can only truly be substituted by another successful relationship. Don’t chase success; instead simply eliminate errors and you will find success will come your way – much the same way only love can heal you from the pain of love. Have faith! Life closes one door and leaves another door ajar – it is up to you to open it.