Picturing Time As A Stream

There are two streams running through the property where my daughter has her horse rescue and training facility. It is a pleasant experience to sit there and listen to the sound of the water coursing its way along the rocky stream beds. It is also pleasant to look upon as each miniscule cascade contributes to the language of the rippling water in this idyllic setting.

Only one thing is certain as I enjoy this opportunity for reverie. I can only experience what is immediately present. Each stream’s origin and their eventual destinations are beyond my knowledge. I can imagine these things and speculate on them based on prior experience. But it is my creative ability, which allows reason to credibly shape a natural outcome. Unless I move my experience upstream or down, the comfort of my informed imagination will have to suit my curiosity about both ends of the water’s ceaseless flow.

Think of time as a stream. This is the final point made by Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May in their book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers. I have been using their advocacy for a certain method in critical thinking to inspire my own series of messages these past few weeks. I am a fan of this form of analysis as well as celebrant for their sense of history as a valuable tool and a key component of their methodology.

My own love of history finds affirmation in their work as they insist that a prudent person will prepare himself with a surfeit of historical precedence by which he can make appropriate applications and suggest reasonable solutions to perplexing problems. The study of history is a walk upstream to better determine origins as a prerequisite to understanding the cascading features of current events. The walk downstream is to assess the landscape for making the next safe haven along the water’s journey. Seasoned interpreters make the best guides when tramping along the water’s edge.

I wrote about this concept not long ago, while using a completely different source for my inspiration. It is what we can call the Ebenezer Effect, whereby we can take the same vow as Charles Dickens’ inimitable character known to us all as Ebenezer Scrooge. He famously proclaimed at the end of A Christmas Carol that he would honor all three spirits he encountered during his yuletide adventure and live in the past the present and the future. In his case it mattered that knowing the virtues and deficiencies of his past, and having established a desired, redemptive destination for his future, he would consequently live a better life now as evidenced to all by his new found generosity.

Picturing time as a stream provides us with a visual metaphor of fluid continuity. Past, present and future are but moments along a single stream of cause and effect, perpetually making turns, falls, pools and eddies of our experiences. There is value to be gained upstream and down, as well as in those mesmerizing features right before our eyes and ears.  

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