The Past Self
April 17, 2022•869 words
While trying to rebuild this blog, I had to browse through an archive of my old articles and decide whether to import them to the new one. Reading articles written by myself in the past feels very strange -- I cannot say about others, but for me, thinking about my past self is one of the weirdest experiences to have. I clearly know that the person, either in my memory or in a written story, used to be me. Yet, all of the self-reflection is done as if it was in third-person. That me, or whoever it was, has a different personality, a different world view, different tastes in everything, and much more. It is almost a separate existence, while at the same time, obviously being me.
The feeling of disconnection from my past self sometimes freaks me out. Who am I if I am no longer the same person in my memory? Sure, I am still physically the same being, but if basically everything about me is different, what makes me the same me? If someone were to invent a time machine, and I had the chance to face my own past self, I would, not exaggeratedly, despise that person. There are just too many things I hate my past self about -- the unreasonable level of patriotism, the naïve admiration to Apple and (later) Google, the uncountably many stupid quibbles and unpleasant arguments I had with people around me, or all the friends I lost along the way. Heck, I was even once a shameless copycat who steals code and claims them to be my own. I could go down the memory lane for hours, but in summary, to me, the Peter from the past is just... plainly unacceptable, in all sorts of ways.
This bothered me for a very long time -- or rather, the past me -- because now I am looking back on this experience as well. Eventually, the realization came that I am simply unwilling to be associated with what I have done in the past. The past me seems awful because I judge my past from the point of view of me in the present. I learned from my experiences, and I changed according to what I think have done wrong. The experience of having done things I now recognize as "wrong", and the fact that I later realized these mistakes, turn them into something I am constantly on the look out for, not only on myself, but on everyone else, including the "me" now frozen as memory. This, of course, prevents me from doing the same thing ever again, but it also makes me extremely harsh, at least mentally, on anyone that does something I did in the past but stopped later. When I look back in my own memory, the realization that I was exactly someone like that causes me to try to distance myself from, well, myself.
What defines "me" is the constant journey from the past self, to the present self, and eventually, the future self. I am sure that in 10 years, or even just 2 to 3 years, many aspects of me will again change almost entirely. Looking back on what I do now, it will certainly feel stupid, embarrassing, or even repelling, again. But it does not mean that what I am doing now is not part of me in the future. Something cannot be "living" when it only exists in a single snapshot of time -- the very definition of "living" is dynamic. Just like we constantly ingest nutrients and replace the very building blocks of our body, we also rebuild our own personality, bit by bit and day by day, towards our own ideals at the moment. The only reason I am here right now, with all of my current beliefs and ideals, is that the past me tried to re-mold himself into something better. However despisable I was in the past, the person who I was had at least one thing good about him -- the willingness to change -- and I cannot be here without it. In this sense, I should be grateful to whoever I was in the past.
What this also means is that I should be kinder to others who I despise. I am not someone who tends to express despise via language or behavior, but my internal harshness towards people who behave like my past self might still be recognizable to others. Rather than someone who does something unacceptable to me, I should view them as someone who has still not "evolved" from a state I was in the past. What would I think if someone were so harsh about me in the past? Probably not too good. Just because someone is in a state right now does not mean they will not change in the future, just like how I did from my past self to my present. What is important is to try to help them accelerate the process -- like a lot of friends did for me -- rather than simply avoiding them. That does no help whatsoever. At the very least, I should not exacerbate the problem by not being kind to them.