Straight from the Hartsock: You: Then or Now

The other day, I brought up a disappointing decision from my friend’s past. He declared, “I’m not that person anymore; don’t judge me based on who I was.”

At first, this didn’t make much sense. I have always supported the theory that who I currently am was influenced by who I used to be. A block of clay was created, and as this clay interacted in the world – it was molded and changed – but at the center of all that alteration was still the same block of clay.

The person I know to be me is a collection of past decisions, experiences, emotions. The way a footprint in the mud becomes a permanent mark when the mud dries reminds me of how our past leaves its mark on our present. The current me is a million different variations of the same version.

We are who we are now because of who we were then.

My friend disagreed with my theory. In his eyes, everyone deserves to be judged based on who they are right now. The past only holds weight if it’s still a part of their personality now. He asked me if someone can change so drastically that they become someone different. Can someone’s past feel strange and unfamiliar because it no longer feels like it’s their own?

“It happened to me,” he said.

Every single second, as our mind wanders or as your life changes, countless factors are influencing who we are. We make different decisions now than we did at the age of nine, thirteen, or even seventeen. The people we were back then felt different feelings, loved different people, and enjoyed different things.

The boy who hated his mom becomes her greatest admirer. The instructor who once loved to teach now feels overwhelmed and discouraged by it. The girl who slept around for attention realizes her worth from the love of her new husband.

They know who they once were, but have grown to not be those people anymore.

In a logical world, we would not love our boyfriend because of who he was five years ago, but for who he is now. The once-successful college graduate who now abuses unemployment should not be viewed as a responsible person anymore. The teenage prostitute who grows up to teach HIV awareness should no longer be viewed as the “girl who was.”

“They’re not the same people they once were,” my friend told me. Judge them for who they are now, not for who they were then.

I could now see the truth in this message and realized that if we lived in a logical society free from emotional damage and the influence of memory, if certain people could truly change, I could agree that everyone should and would be judged for their current variation of who they started out to be.

But in reality, we remember the hardships people put us through, the dialogue that brought on our smiles, and the memories of our past that hurt or aided our hearts.

Whether or not we feel that the landscape has changed so drastically that our old footprints have been washed away in the mud – our old selves no longer leave a mark on who we are now – the impact we’ve left on others can’t always be erased. Even if our old footprints don’t represent who we are now, everything we did in our past leaves a footprint in someone’s life.

Consequently, others define us based on our past. We can’t escape what we’ve done or who we were, because that person still matters to someone, and therefore, it has to matter to us. Our past is our sack of junk that hangs from our necks, representing who carries it. And as we continue to live, to change, to mold, to take away, to gain; we continue to fill the sack, offering the world new reasons to judge us how they see fit.

Both sides of the spectrum are true. We should be judged for the person we are right now, but who we’ve been in the past will always walk in our shadow. In order to change this, we must work to build trust, and prove that we’ve changed. We have to strive to be the best person we can be, because who we are now will become what people judge us for later.

6 Responses

  1. Elli says:

    It’s always disheartening or awkward or frustrating when someone looks at you through the eyes of the past. Especially if the past is something you simply want to leave behind. People can and do change; its the beauty of having choices, and forming our own destinies. We don’t have to stick with the cards we’ve been dealt, just as we don’t have to be who we started out as.

    But I think we should always take ownership of our past actions, and the ways they’ve affected others. Like you said, even if the person changes their actions still leave imprints on the people they affected.

    Forgiving someone for the past is a healing thing for everyone involved, but it isn’t always a gift that’s given freely (if at all). Sometimes we have to face up to the consequences of even past actions, and deal with them as who we are today.

    Very good points, Jennie! And very insightful. 🙂

  2. Thank you, Liz. I also agree that we should take ownership for who we were in the past. For some people, this is hard to do when they feel like that person is so far gone.

    Thank you for reading!

  3. Ashley says:

    I really enjoyed your column this week Jenn. It’s not about judging, it’s about accepting. Accepting who you were then because, like you said, every decision you make is a part of who you are now, including the decision to change.

    Also accepting others for who they are, not who they were or who you wish they were.

  4. Thank you for the comment, Ashley. It seems there needs to be a balance between holding people accountable for their past decisions, but also accepting them for who they are now. It’s different for everyone, some people’s personalities don’t change that much from year to year — like mine. For others, they do a lot of growing up, and would like to be seen as adults and not kids anymore.

  5. Tales of personal redemption are some of my favorites. They just so happen to require the elements of a negative history and a renewed you.

    Anyone who has ever tried to make up for past actions knows you have to fight hard for it, sometimes giving back ten-fold what your mistakes took away. You have to accept that and take each snag along the way in stride. You have to be patient with your critics, show them through actions over time how you’ve changed.

    While it can be discouraging at times to keep fighting, have you really changed all that much if you’re not willing to put in the effort to make up for your past?

    On the other hand, people shouldn’t be so closed minded to those efforts either. They should be willing to forgive at some point. If they hold it over your head forever, it’s a fault in their character, not yours.

    (PS: I realize this only has to do with a part of what you were saying.)

  6. Thank you for commenting, Justin. It is very interesting to consider that some people change so drastically that they’re strangers to their past, and that others (like me) feel like the same ol’ Jennifer who I was years and years ago, just with different “parts” now.

What do you think?