Rearview Mirror Syndrome

“…(Marshall McLuhan) contends that most of us are incapable of understanding the impact of new media because we are like drivers whose gaze is fixed not on where we are going but on where we came from. It is not even a matter of seeing through the windshield but darkly. We are seeing clearly enough, but we are looking in the rearview mirror.”*

The usefulness and insight of this metaphor extends well beyond new media. Looking through the rearview mirror is one of the ways we get stuck on the path to a more deliberate and happier life.

Looking through the rearview mirror, we see or create continuity in our lives, firming up a dynamic self often in ways that do not serve us. When we keep looking backward, it is easy to get stuck in who we’ve been, what we’ve done, and what we’ve had. We start to think this is who we are, what we’re capable of and what we deserve. Period.

What about looking forward through the windshield and imagining new possibilities for ourselves and our lives, challenging ourselves to be, do or have more than we have been, done or had in the past? Even in the absence of “evidence” from our lived experience that this is possible. Though I assure you, if you go looking for it, you’ll find some “evidence” in your past to help support the future person you’d like to be.

Evidence is often found in anything that disrupts the continuity of the story of who you are.

I want to be X but I’m not a risk-taker. But there was that one time…

This is what I mean by human potential. We can’t see what we’re capable of or imagine a bigger, bolder, happier (insert your dream “-er” here) life for ourselves by looking backwards.

And we limit ourselves, too, when we look to past models about how to live and mistake them for the only options. When we overlay past models onto our path we take a personal, winding road and turning it into a superhighway. A pre-mapped venture rather than the organic, wild adventure that will occur when we’re looking through the windshield and keep moving forward, no matter how far we can see or how clear the view.

* Marshall McLuhan’s “Rearview Mirror Syndrome” metaphor as described by Neil Postman in Teaching as a Subversive Activity (also in the running for one of my favorite books of all time).

Photo is from my personal vault.