Living In The Long Moment
As we get older, it’s easy to think our moment has passed. But maybe our moment in history is longer and more fascinating than we might imagine.
No word has been more overused in the last few years than “unprecedented.” It was used to describe everything from the pandemic to the storming of the Capitol building in Washington. We all joked about how we missed living in “precedented” times.
Don’t know about y’all but I could really go for some precedented times.
— Simon Holland (@simoncholland) August 18, 2020
In a way, this shows the narrowness of our historical focus. We judge history based on our lifetime. Or worse still, a thin slice of life reflected in our recent adulthood. Or when it comes to judging arts and culture, the formative season from middle school to the end of university.
But what if we took a more expansive view of history and our moment within it?
The Long Moment
Instead of defining ourselves in terms of a lifetime, or generation, or favourite decade, what if we had a broader view of our role in history?
This is precisely the idea Krista Tippett suggested in a recent On Being podcast entitled Taking The Long View of Time, which was part of a series of short podcasts called Foundations series. Drawing on the work of Elise Boulding, a sociologist best known for her work in feminism and pacifism, Tippett suggests we should imagine ourselves as part of a 200-year present.
Try this exercise:
Picture the oldest person you’ve met from your family. Maybe a grandparent, a great aunt or uncle, or even a great grandparent. What year were they born? Now picture the youngest person you’ve held in your arms. In what year would they potentially turn 100?
This is the long moment in history that is directly shaping us and which, in turn, we are directly shaping with our own lives.
What Does The Long Moment Mean?
My long moment includes the Spanish Flu, the rise of Authoritarianism in Europe between the wars, and the Civil Rights marches in the US. All of these happened before I was born, but they still reverberate with lessons relevant to the situation we find ourselves in today.
It will also include epochal changes we currently live on the edge of experiencing. The challenge to address climate change, perhaps with a major shift in the kind of energy resources we use. The possibility of human colonies on distant frontiers like the Moon or further afield. A possible shift in the global balance of power. And the relentless advance of technology changing the way we live and work.
All of these, past and present, belong to us and are part of our moment.
“So this is all a very grand way to speak of reality. But the beautiful and mysterious thing I’ve experienced in all of this way of thinking and imagining, this way of cracking time open and seeing its true, manifold nature, is that this actually expands my sense of the possible in the here and the now.”
– Krista Tippet
We Belong More Deeply Than We Know
When I listen to any old ʼ50s jazz tune, it belongs to me. Music made in the future, perhaps with instruments that don’t yet exist, could also belong to me. A Chaplin film could speak to me with the same force as next year’s blockbusters since they both belong to my moment.
It’s easy to feel, as we get older, like we don’t belong anymore. We had our chance. Our moment passed when our youth faded. The present is just weird and strange and enraging.
But only if we choose to see it that way. Only if we tell ourselves we don’t belong.
The long moment reminds us that history moves and changes at a tempo far slower than the world of fashion and marketing and relentless news cycles would have us believe.
After all, we’re just human.
We like to imagine we’re radically different to our great grandparents, but we have so much more in common with them. And we’ll have as much in common with our great grandchildren.
We might dress differently and surround ourselves with different kinds of devices. But in terms of what matters, in our quest for meaning, our search for love, and our response to the challenges facing the world we inhabit, we are so much more alike.
Which reminds us that we still belong, profoundly, to our own ongoing long moment.