Do Past Actions Matter?
Do you value others based on the past?
The answer is… Of course you do. But perhaps there’s a better way.
My recent episode with a sick cat got me thinking about the role our memory plays in our value to society and in the way others value us. A few days later, I heard an update on a friend from a spiritual group in which I’m involved who had back surgery for some unrelenting pain. She’s in her 70s, and the stress and anesthesia have damaged her short-term memory — possibly temporarily but perhaps permanently. Is the friend’s value as an inhabitant of the planet lessened by her lessened memory? And does the stress of an overnight vet stay and an array of antibiotic pills permanently damage my cat and my relationship with her?
I’ve read that cats have very poor short-term memory — although I doubt this is true based on my experience. Some experts think cats don’t remember for more than a few hours, weeks or days. Others have found that cats can learn and repeat complex patterns. The truth, it seems to me, is somewhere in the middle. But do cats remember the times you’ve ignored them when you should have made time? Does the memory of intense pain haunt them as it does some humans?
Cats may be incapable of holding your worst actions against you — or they may choose to forgive you. Your past interactions may mean nothing to them — or they may be the basis for the love and kindness they show you everyday.
Do you value others based on their pasts? Or do you value them because we’re all of equal worth, having come from the same source? Does it matter to you what someone has accomplished in the past or what criminal acts they’ve done as recently as yesterday? Is a police officer who shoots an unarmed homeless man worth more or less than a drug smuggler, a priest who has never abused a child or a blogger with no day job? Is your saintly grandmother of the same value as your delinquent teenager? Is a retired journalist worth the same as one who is still turning over rocks and digging under facades?
Can any of these questions really be answered?
The past no longer exists, just as the future can’t be guaranteed for you. We tend to base our assessments of others on their past education, accomplishments or mistakes. But when someone else’s eyes meet ours, there is no moment other than the present.
Some spiritual gurus suggest living in the moment — in the “now”. If you meet others in the now, what difference does the past make?
I don’t know if my friend will remember me when we visit her, and I don’t know if my now-recovered cat remembers the pain and fear that comes with a corneal ulcer and a swollen face.
I know this: We do ourselves and others more justice if we recognize value in every living creature without regard for their pasts. That’s true even if we’re the one hurt by their past actions — or the one who benefited from them.