The Test of Times: Exploring Cultures Focused on the Past, Present, and Future
The Test of Times: Exploring Cultures Focused on the Past, Present, and Future
  • 경남타임즈(경남대학교)
  • 승인 2021.12.20 13:22
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Professor of Division of
Undergraduate English Education

“There are three types of countries: past-, present-, and future-oriented cultures” a career expat once told me. Although an interesting way to compare and categorize, it may not always be this simple. However, it can be helpful in understanding people and their countries on a deeper level. We might even be able to apply these philosophies to enhance and improve of our own lives. My culture is largely future-oriented; we dream big, aspire to much, and plan methodically, always striving for the best outcomes and most efficient way. Many important inventions and companies stem from innovations and those who strive to change the future world. These values are reflected in our vocabulary -- we do not simply have one word for ‘goal,’ but many synonyms. We also have separate categories of goals: long-term goals, short-term goals, career goals, personal goals, weekend goals, athletic goals, fitness goals, educational goals, and others. In a country rife with ambitions, we often say that ‘anything is possible,’ and actually believe that is true. After all, “chance favors the prepared” according to Pascal, and we invest much time in our plans and preparations. In contrast, other cultures are more focused on the past. Actions and wars and relationships from long ago seem as though they occurred yesterday. This can manifest as the range between grudge-holding to preserving cherished traditions. There is merit to this focus, in that studying and understanding the past allows us to make sense of the present environment, culture, and people. Why are people the way that they are? Well, examine the history, and ask, rather, what happened to make them this way? For example, Americans tend to rebel in situations of deemed injustice according to their convictions. One could examine the origins of this country, founded by treasonous rebels in the face of a tyrant, and make an obvious connection. Examining the context often sheds light on current characteristics. Kyungnam Times ● 25 However, if a country has a rough past and an unstable future, that leaves us with the present. Maybe the history is traumatic and violent, and we cannot change that, whereas the future is uncertain and the environment leads us to believe that it cannot be controlled. But the ‘now’ we can control and appreciate. An important point to learn from culture like this is to be present; rather than take for granted where you are and what you are doing by focusing on what is next, pay attention to right now. Appreciate and observe your current surroundings that you might miss, otherwise is almost as if they never happened. Which one applies to your home culture? Upon reflection of this question, you might determine that it is a combination of past, present, and future. Some cultures tend to focus on the future regarding their families and the present with work. Others consider the past surrounding traditions and the future as it relates to money and savings. The attitudes that we have toward these philosophies are typically learned and inherited from previous generations, although some individuals have their own unique ideas. Being aware and conscious of these three can allow us to be more intentional and effective in the future. After living abroad for nearly 10 years, I have had many opportunities to analyze these dimensions within myself and others. While I still consider myself to be a future-oriented person, I have acquired a few constructive habits from living in cultures that tend to be more mindful of the present. In more polluted countries, enjoying in the park on a clear, sunny day is a priority, because there is no guarantee the clean air will last. I might defer work that is not time sensitive to spend time with a friend, not knowing how long we will live in the same city. Responsibilities are important, but sometimes they can wait, while other activities are limited. Traveling regionally while I can, and participating in special holidays and festivals are other examples, because the circumstances may not present the same chance again. I have always been an opportunist, but now I consider both opportunities in the future and in the present, and try to maximize my life with an added dimension that I learned from very different cultures. It is true that people are a product of their environment, but this is not an absolute. Research from a variety of fields shows time and again that people can and do adapt when needed, due to the plasticity of the mind. We can use this to our advantage. In being aware of these driving forces, we can ask why we do what we do, and if it is in fact the most effective approach. It can be constructive to evaluate and reevaluate, as a little contemplation and adaptation could enhance our lives.

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