“Two woods diverged in a wood. And I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” describes a road split in two and the traveler must make a decision between two paths. Faced with this decision the traveler decided to take “the one less traveled” or the less popular one and in this case choosing that one is the better alternative. The less popular route is less known and less conformist.
We have all had moments in our lives where we were forced to make difficult decisions and afterwards we reflected on the outcomes. If the outcome is unfavorable and causes regret or embarrassment we often reflect on these poor decisions and wonder what if we made a different decision. Individuals are not alone in wishing to rewrite their own histories; there also has been a whole genre of fiction dedicated to revisionist or alternative histories. Authors and filmmakers have speculated if events unfolded differently and what would have changed. Films like Inglorious Basterds and Groundhog Day have explored this genre. Inglorious Basterds looked at World War Two differently with a ruthless Jewish-American force that committed atrocities against the Nazis and Hitler as killed before D-Day. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again and learns by acting differently just in a single day his life can be vastly different.
When we our speculating about our personal or global history, we are reliving our decisions. It’s easy to relive decisions in retrospective because we have all the facts. When we relive unfavorable outcomes our goal is to sweep away bad decisions. If we had the ability to sweep away all our bad decisions we lose the ability to learn from our experiences. When we make bad decisions and regret them we gain the ability from our experiences so we can move forward.
In revisionist history, the most dramatic events of the 20th century; the holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb are often prevented. These two events killed millions of people but humankind’s experience with these two dramatic realities gave us the opportunity to learn from these events. In alternate history, Stephen Fry’s Making History goes back in time to stop Hitler from being born but as a consequence a more ruthless leader takes Hitler’s place with more tragic consequences. Individuals like Adolf Hitler make choices to shape history, but if he didn’t exist and societal factors contribute to xenophobia, events like the Holocaust will still occur. If these two events were stopped, we wouldn’t have a horrendous act to reference why xenophobia or nuclear arms should be stopped. By seeing the consequences of these two events, humankind is now fully aware of the price humanity will suffer when racism runs rampant through a nation, and our technology has advanced to the point where we have the ability to eradicate all life from the Earth. As in global history, in our personal lives we need to live through our bad experiences to learn from them and move forward.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do” Confucius
History is often destined to happen. We need to live through our experiences to give us the ability to learn from our consequences but also the opportunity for us to face challenges and come out triumphant. Facing the consequences of negative decisions teaches us what we must do different next time. When a similar moment resurfaces, when we have reflected on our past mistakes, we are stronger and able to better react to these different situations.