People are shaped by their experiences. When we experience something, we note the reaction, positive or negative. We slot in memory what happened, how it happened, what we did or didn’t do in response, the outcome and the final impact of that outcome. Overall, we label the event as a good experience or a bad experience.
At some point in the future, a similar or relatable event happens and we look back, pull previous experience from memory to help us determine what to do this time, in this event. We look at how things turned out and seek ways to repeat a prior success or to shape a better outcome.
That’s the value of personal history. Learning from mistakes and successes.
But it isn’t only our own history, our own mistakes and successes, that teach us. We also learn from the histories, mistakes and successes of others. Those closest to us, where we observe firsthand or where they share the details and relate their experience. And we learn through those who are strangers to us but who have shared the details and their experiences through books, videos, lectures and other mediums.
Then there are those we observe from a greater distance. Those who make the news, where we don’t have personal interaction or access, but we hear the details and are aware of the results. We learn from these sources, too. Things like newscasts, reports on court cases, even balance sheets. Insights are everywhere and we gain knowledge and wisdom from all of them.
In some cases, we see the impact of events or circumstances on individuals. In other cases, we see the impact of individual actions on groups of others and on entities. For example, the NFL player who sat out the national anthem. Regardless of your personal opinion on his actions, recent polling shows he’s now the least liked player in the NFL. His actions have impacted the team, and the NFL as a whole. Fans, too. Fewer are watching the games, even on TV. There’s been some positive reaction, but a lot of negative reaction that impacts the ballplayer but also a lot of other people. If that negativity persists, it will more deeply impact all players, teams and owners. It will also impact stadiums and relative individuals and businesses.
An important lesson to slot in memory is the conclusion that people, fans specifically, don’t like politics with their football. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, only that there is a price to pay for doing it. Whether or not one chooses to pay the price is a personal choice. Whether or not others impacted elect to pay the price is their personal choice.
A gift to us is that we don’t just look back to our own experiences, but we’re free to call on the wisdom of others who also look back. Mentors, counselors, those with more experience, who bring to the situation their own experiences, insights, and wisdoms as well as that of all those they’ve ever approached for counsel. The knowledge-base ripple grows broader and broader, which is why we seek counsel in the first place.
This is the very reason the personal history of each character is so important in fiction. That history includes experiences and mentors and gives us a view into how this specific person goes about making decisions and facing problems. It sets the stage for how the person will react to crises and to successes. Gives insight on the way the person thinks, the attitudes and outlooks that shape the character of the person. In other words, it shows the prism through which the character sees his or her world and the world at large.
That’s the value in looking back. Whether in real life, for real people, or in fictional life for story people.
The point isn’t just that looking back helps us avoid many of life’s mud puddles. It’s that looking back also cues us what specific people consider mud puddles and how we and they will react when we land in mud puddles.
In life, these insights help us act deliberately. In fiction, these insights help us portray our characters with credible consistency. And while both focus on what is ahead, we see farther and more clearly when we understand the value of looking back.
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© 2016, Vicki Hinze. Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Star. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. Subscribe to Vicki’s Monthly Newsletter!