VOLUME 44 NUMBER 2
“Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.” For many of us, hearing those words implies that we could have made a better choice. For professor of psychology and dean of the Class of 2011, Mark Freeman, the concept of hindsight is more than a toss-away regret. In his new book, Freeman carefully reviews the possibility that looking to our past can be an important step in self-discovery. Written for academic readers as well as “the reflective general reader, the kind of person who’s given to thinking about the world and his or her place in it,” the book also investigates the role of hindsight in building a moral life; it recently won the 2010 Theodore Sarbin Award for outstanding contributions to theoretical and philosophical psychology. HCM chatted with Freeman about Hindsight.
You write about “narrative reflection.” What does that mean?
By “narrative reflection,” I refer to the fact that what we’re experiencing at any given moment, meaningful though it may be in itself, acquires further meaning and further significance as a function both of what comes later and of the whole—the evolving story—of which it’s a part. What this suggests is that reflection on our lives frequently assumes narrative form: We “read” the episodes of the past from the standpoint of the present, placing them within the fabric of narrative.
You say the concept of life lived and life as told is something you’ve been interested in for years. What sparked that “obsession”?
Although I can trace the obsession at hand to some discrete features of the past—some research I was doing as a young graduate student at the University of Chicago, the extraordinary courses I was able to take with the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, among others—it really derives mainly from my own experience in the world. So often, things appear one way, and it’s only later, with distance, that we’re able to see what we either couldn’t see or wouldn’t see earlier on. For me, it’s just a fundamental aspect of being human.
What are the greatest possibilities and pitfalls of our ability to re-tell our own stories from a current vantage point?
The great promise of hindsight lies in our capacity to see things anew from the “aerial view” of the present. In this sense, hindsight is a key player—in fact, I would suggest, the key player—in the examined life. It is especially important in moral life, where there is a tendency to act first and think later. But herein lies some of the peril too. For it is precisely through hindsight that we come to see our weaknesses and limits. And as we all know, this can hurt a great deal. The “peril,” therefore, is nothing less than the peril of self-knowledge.
Raymond Flannery, a licensed clinical psychologist and an associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, has studied the intricate nature of stress, violence and psychological trauma for more than 40 years. In his latest book, The Violent Person, Flannery outlines professional risk management strategies for safety and care. He notes that in their daily work, health care workers are often in the path of violence, falling victim to homicide, hostage taking, robbery and sexual assault. The Violent Person aims to save the lives of these front-line caretakers—and is of interest to any reader contemplating stress and the workings of the human mind.
Studies supporting the connection between the mind and body have given new evidence about the power of our brains and our attitudes to heal and retain good health. In her new book, Mind & Medicine: In Harmony for Healing, Marianne Urbanski, D.M.D., investigates how we think and how our various engrained belief systems affect our health and well-being. Through patient stories and concepts learned through her own practice, Urbanski explains simple tools and techniques that can be used to improve one’s mental outlook and overall health.
The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy is ESPN personality Bill Simmons’ entertaining romp through the past, present and future of pro basketball. In his latest book, he tackles every major basketball debate and takes readers inside his five-level shrine to the 96 greatest players in the history of the sport.
The Holy Cross Bookstore offers the works of many alumni and faculty authors. Visit the store on campus or online at http://bookstore.holycross.edu