The 200 Year Present Moment

The experiment is to get in touch with 100 years before and after your birth. Why 100 years? This is the time span that we are fairly directly personally connected to: from our grandparents to our grandchildren, roughly speaking.

This is a thought experiment that I have found can lead to surprisingly deep results. To the best of my knowledge it was Elise Boulding (an academic and peace activist) who invented it.

The experiment is to get in touch with 100 years before and after your birth. Why 100 years? This is the time span that we are fairly directly personally connected to: from our grandparents to our grandchildren, roughly speaking. It needn’t take long — I find five minutes is enough — although it could take as long as you’d like it to take.

Here is an example from my life, to help you see what I mean.

My grandmother was born in the late 19th century. This was a little before the first powered flight. Computers in their modern sense were barely conceived of by most people. Cars were a luxury. People died from flu, and there were no antibiotics. So my personal story goes back a bit more than a hundred years at this point.

I have no children but am involved in the lives of a niece and nephew, who are five and eight. Looking forward, I’m worried, global warming and peak oil being the big unknowns on the horizon. The consequences of these two crises are unpredictable I think. Thinking twenty years ahead is more than I can envisage, let alone a hundred.

When I do this exercise interesting things happen for me:

  • I get a broader perspective. The day to day trivia gets put in perspective. I find that I become less frantic.
  • Paradoxically, I also find it helps me focus on what I am doing at the moment. I find that I am less distracted.
  • I do get worried for my niece and nephew.
  • I get back in touch with my values and priorities.
  • I also find myself more hopeful — a hundred years in the future I can easily imagine those who see themselves as enemies now, being friends by then.
  • This helps me get unstuck when I feel that there is nothing that can be done.

It is a simple exercise, but it can have quite a deep impact — at least it does for me.

If you would like to try it, I’d love to hear how you find it. Does it result in changes for you? What kind of impact does it have for you? I’m looking forward to hearing your experience in the comments.

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