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Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Sometimes the best thing to do when you need to go forward is to look back. Today I am learning this from the Akan people of Ghana.

“Sankofa” is the word they use to describe the learning that comes from revisiting the past.  Sankofa is critical for moving into the future. 

There are so many other examples of people using this wisdom, I think it must be hard wired into the universe.  Just in our culture and country:
  • Organizations look at their past as a part of strategic planning for the future;
  • Therapists help clients review the past as a tool to help them live differently in the future;
  • Athletes study film of past games in order to play differently in upcoming contests.
I have an 80 year old friend who begins each day by looking at his journal from 10 years ago to the day.  This is not someone who is stuck in the past.  He says the looking back gives him perspective as he lives into the challenges of the current day.

Is it possible to get stuck in the past, or dwell there in unhealthy ways?  Sure.  But it is equally possible to refuse to learn from the past, which is its own form of stupidity.

To a people who stood at the crossroads, God seemed to invite this kind of reflection:  
Stand at the crossroads, and look and ask for the ancient paths where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.  (Jeremiah 6:16) 

Sometimes the best thing to do when you need to move forward is to look back.

Reflection Question:  What part of your life could use a little “Sankofa?”
by Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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  1. Funny you should ask about looking back..... Yesterday at work one of the nurses who is working on her Master's Degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner asked me if there was a time when I first started my life as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner that I felt insecure. She percieves me as secure in my identy as a NNP. I had to sit and think on that question so I could answer her honestly and encourage her in her journey into a new way of providing patient care.

    The Southeast Lumunos Event always makes me look back on my faith journey. I have to ask myself every year... Am I stuck in a rut with this event? Are we doing it just because we are used to doing it or are we doing it because that is what God is calling us to do? These are good questions in lots of areas of my life. I should listen closely to the answers.


  2. This is a very reflective time for each year. The anniversary of my dad's death is coming up soon (actually on Easter Sunday). He died when I was 19. I'm 44 now, so I have lived longer after he died than before. As the years move on, I wonder what I learned from him. I honestly can't think of a specific thing, but perhaps more of general life lessons such as caring for others, treating people fairly, a faith in a loving God. It is good to look back. Sometimes though it takes a little work.

  3. Hi, Doug

    Nice post - sorry I'm just now getting to it.

    Sankofa is also used in the adult education world in connection with learning from our past. Sometimes this appears as your mature friend who reviews his diary every day; sometimes it shows up as "I'll never make that mistake again!"

    As I work with people who are trying to learn a new way of doing or being, one of the most powerful questions I can ask is "Have you ever . . .?" This question allows the person to absorb new information within the context of their past experiences and already existing knowledge. This is essential for adult learners (and works pretty nicely for young learners as well).