How Looking to the Past Prepares Us for the Future

From Sun Tzu to Benjamin Franklin to Stephen King, we humans have long understood the importance of preparing. At its core, preparedness has always looked the same.

Whether you’re storing food for when times are lean or you’re keeping an umbrella in your car in case it rains, you’ve done what hundreds of generations of people have done before you. You looked ahead to what might happen in the future. You figured out what you would need to get through it. And then you prepared.

The wisdom of those who came before us can help us get ready for what lies ahead. I’ve gathered a handful of quotes that stuck out to me when I was learning the ins and outs of emergency preparedness, and today I’d like to share them with you.

Prepare when times are good

It’s easy to be complacent when times are easy. Why think about past or future difficulties when you can enjoy yourself instead?

Photo by Nina Luong on Unsplash

The answer is simple: because the good times won’t last.

Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War: “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.”

The ‘good’ times may not be around forever, but neither will the future difficulties. You might carry an umbrella in your car because it might rain, but you also know the sun will come out eventually after it does rain.

Far from making you worry, preparing for hard times while the going is easy will give you more peace of mind. You’ll know you are ready for whatever lies ahead.

What if you keep putting it off? Times are uncertain, but they’re not unlivable, right? In his book The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, Max Brooks says, “If you believe you can accomplish everything by ‘cramming’ at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining.”

Take caution

We live in the era of fake news and click bait. Internet personalities and news outlets alike sensationalize current events for the sole purpose of gaining viewers and readers. Fear equals clicks, and clicks equal money.

It can be easy to dismiss the claims of people who try to capitalize on your fear for personal gain. But, regardless of how the information is presented, we should each do our research and be aware of the very real risks where we live.

For instance, at Total Prepare’s headquarters on the west coast, we are at risk of earthquakes and tsunamis. Our local customers understand the importance of preparing for what might happen when ‘the Big One’ hits, so they know to prepare for at least 72 hours, or 1 or 2 weeks if they’re able.

If we prepare ahead, we can consider it “preventative maintenance.” As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Therefore, the more we do now, the less we’ll have to scramble later when we might not have access to the same conveniences.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing nothing

Mr. Franklin also said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” If we choose to ‘get to it later,’ we are effectively choosing inaction.

It’s not a fun task to consider the worst-case scenario. Thinking about how you might get yourself and your family through a disaster such as an earthquake, fire, or flood is stressful.

However, when you take the time to think through potential worst-case scenarios, to think about the actions you will take and how you will get through it, you are equipping yourself for success. It’s why fire drills are important.

Once you have your plan firmly in mind, you don’t have to spend that time during the actual emergency panicking about what you’ll do. You’ll already know.

Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch wrote in his book The Last Lecture, “Another way to be prepared is to think negatively. Yes, I’m a great optimist. But, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves?”

Hope for the best, etc.

Pausch continues, “One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about because I have a plan in place if they do.”

Many have said it before, but I like how Stephen King puts it in his novella collection Different Seasons: “There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.” A folder with the cut-off words "emergency plan" on it.

Think of it like this: Something is going to happen eventually, so you might as well be prepared for it. Even if that something is as small as a power outage and your preparation consists of having a flashlight and some self-heating meals handy.

With that said, don’t linger on the worst. That’s a recipe for undue anxiety. Think instead of what the absolute best-case scenario could be. What will actually happen falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

To keep a realistic view of what lies ahead, keep yourself informed. Understand the risks and hazards in your area. Make a plan for what you would do in a worst-case scenario for each. Stock up on the necessities. And then don’t worry too much about it.

As the Barenaked Ladies sang, “Odds are that we will probably be alright.”

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