A pattern I've noticed recently is that thinking about the future makes me tired. I think I (along with many of the people around me) suffer from future fatigue. The future used to be synonymous with dreams, exciting new things, and bucket lists. Yes, it was always uncertain, but it was energising to plan for “one day”. Now, it sometimes feels impossibly hard to imagine a future that is better than today. It takes work to focus on the positive signals and not get fixated on the negatives.
It is in this context that I have been pondering the notion of “remembering .”
Remember is a word we all assume we know the meaning of to recall something from the past — something or someone we know. It’s linked to reminiscing and nostalgia. However, when you look at the word’s etymology, other potentially more relevant meanings emerge for our times.
Re: word-forming element meaning “back, back from, back to the original place;” ALSO “again, anew, once more,” also conveying the notion of “undoing” or “backward.” PLUS Memor: mindful.
While it may not be strictly correct, I find it helpful to think about remembering as becoming mindful again, or of undoing old meanings: re-meaning (making new meanings, seeing anew).
While nostalgia about the past (the “normal” so many people are yearning to return to) can be comforting, in a complex and dynamic world we need to accept that we are in a different context now. We can’t go back to the past we remember and the future we were planning for has also fundamentally changed. Many of us need to mourn that loss of a future we can no longer have. And we need to accept that we are where we are, make new meaning from this present reality, and become mindful again so that we can move forward with intentionality and hope.
Another meaning I have found generative comes from simply deconstructing the word. Re + Member. Member, as in a member of a body or team. I often feel pretty discombobulated — as if things are coming apart at the seams. Reconnecting to my body, emotions, soul, and purpose in this new context: to re-member, i.e., bringing all my “members” back again feels like an essential act of self-care.
The same is true of teams. As more and more companies seek to bring their staff “back to the office,” many assume that the teams will simply pick up where they left off two years ago. This is not possible. The people coming back are not the same people; the teams are not the same teams. In many ways, we need to treat these as brand new teams, or at the very least go through a process of re:membering — reconstituting the members, reforming relationships, and reconnecting to purpose. In fact, there are many re: words that resonate now: regroup, replenish, reconnect, renew … what we need to remind ourselves in this context is that RE doesn’t only mean going back; it also means undoing and anew.
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