Existential Psychology

Rescuing Actions Into The Past

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We usually think of our actions in terms of their effects on the present and the future. Especially in the West, the mentality is goal-oriented, the focus on what comes next. We look towards the past not with hope but with a sense of finality that usually brings regret or nostalgia in its wake.

This is why Frankl’s concept of rescuing actions into the past is vertigo inducing. It causes us to rethink our relationship to time. His point is the fact that the past is unchangeable, set in stone, is its greatest virtue in the context of human meaning. It acts as a repository for personally meaningful actions, we can deposit those actions there and know that they are safe forever. No such guarantee exists in the present or the future, where things are still very much up in the air.

The point of our lives then becomes rescuing as much personal meaning into the past as we can before death takes us, an attitude that ends up exerting a tremendous impact on how we decide to conduct ourselves in the present and how we orient ourselves towards the future. When we think of the past as being unchangeable for all eternity, we realize that every moment of every day it’s our destiny on the line, and we only have a brief period of time, the blink of an eye, to shape that destiny forever. The stakes are a lot higher than most people consider them since they’re usually focused on future continuation in the form of some sort of afterlife.

This is not to say that there is one unchangeable meaning that must be fulfilled. Personal meaning is different for unique individuals in their unique situations. What is important is that a premium is placed on considering various possibilities and choosing the specific actions that turn the personally meaningful possibilities into concrete realities. In Frankl’s construct the past becomes an ally rather than an adversary provided the correct choices were made while the chance was there to make them.