ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

MOVING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK

It was almost an incident.

Looking back, it could have been huge. A real day-wrecker-if not life-altering.

Thankfully, it was a near miss. No incident. And that's hardly incidental.

We were coming home from my sister's house late last Saturday night. Turning onto the freeway on-ramp, we found ourselves trapped behind a big, slow-moving ice cream truck. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly calm, patient, reasonable person. But I do have a tendency to get a little . . . well, you know . . . crazy behind the wheel of the family van. Especially when I'm trapped behind big, slow-moving trucks.

So my first impulse was to swerve around this truck even though there wasn't really an appropriate lane in which I could safely do so. My hands gripped the steering wheel, and I started into the swerve motion. And then I hesitated. I'm not exactly sure why. It wasn't because I saw the little car coming up so quickly behind me, because I didn't. I didn't pick him up in my rear view mirror or in my side mirror, because to tell you the truth I didn't really look in either place.

And yes, I know how frightening it is that I was about to swerve around a slow-moving truck on a single-lane freeway on-ramp without looking back. I told you-I get a little crazy.

Even more frightening is the fact that the driver of the little car behind me evidently gets even crazier than I do. He roared around me just as I was tensing up to swing out around the truck. Thankfully, I hesitated long enough to catch a glimpse of his headlights out of the corner of my left eye. If I had acted on my initial impulse to swerve . . . well, it could have been ugly.

You can bet that I've made a mental note to look back before I swerve from now on. In fact, as I've reflected on the incident-or non-incident, if you will-I've decided that "looking back" is a pretty good idea in many different contexts.

That's a new concept for me. I'm sort of a forward-looking, keep-a-goin', don't-stop-now- we're-almost-there kind of guy. I tend to not look back, largely because I'm also the kind of guy who makes lots of mistakes, and looking back only reminds me of the dumb things I've done. Like the time I gave Dad's car keys and credit card to my 14-year-old nephew and told him to drive Dad's car down to the gas station and fill it up. When my Dad and my big sister heard about it . . .

Uh . . . on second thought, I'd just as soon not look back on that.

Still, you get the idea. Even painfully embarrassing memories like that one can be good to revisit from time to time, as long as we're prepared to apply the lessons we've learned from those experiences to present and future choices. That's how we learn. And grow. And develop. And avoid getting yelled at by our Dad AND our big sister.

Looking back can be a healthy exercise for individuals, families, communities and nations. It helps to keep us grounded to our principles and values. It helps to keep us focused on our original goals and ideals. Pausing to look back at where we've been and what we did gives us the opportunity to remember where we were and why we did what we did, and that can help us to move forward with greater clarity, purpose and vision.

While helping us to avoid certain . . . you know . . . incidents.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.