Collective Nostalgia For The Past

Collective nostalgia for the past

We all feel nostalgic at times. We wish we were in a certain time, a certain situation, something that has already happened. We suffer because of something that now seems far away, something that we had and then lost. Maybe it’s about a person, a group, a place, an object or an event.

There are two different types of nostalgia and the difference is very important. The first type is a positive feeling, a nice memory of something that has disappeared or been lost over time. The second type has a negative connotation. It’s a feeling of pain over something that won’t come back but that we long for.

Man looks at old photos

Nostalgia for people and places

Probably the first thing you think of when it comes to nostalgia is the desire for a loved one. Breakups, distance, or death are events that give us this wistful feeling. But nostalgia is no less important when it comes to circumstances or objects.

In some languages ​​you have your own words for specific longings, for example for the longing for home: that would be “homesickness” in German, and in Galician there is the expression “morriña.” It is said that “morriña” is a longing for the country one comes from. It means missing the place from which one comes, including the facts and situations that are reminiscent of it.

“Look into my nostalgia and tell me what you see.”

Xavier Velasco

Collective nostalgia

There is another form of nostalgia called collective nostalgia. It describes a common longing for what a society once was.

At some point in our lives we have all heard someone say, “Everything was different back then.”   But comparing two different eras is never fair. Memory distorts memories of what happened a long time ago, so that one ultimately longs for a past that never really existed. Our selective memory will only remember those events that make us even more nostalgic.

In some parts of the world, a large part of the population has a longing for dictatorships. These people talk about how great those times were. They sigh that there is no more firm hand in these modern times and cry out for a strong, charismatic leader to make their nation great again.

But obviously these longings hide important parts of the past and present. They do not think that all the freedoms that come with the current regime would no longer exist in a dictatorship. They never mention the crimes people have committed in the past that they long for.

“There is no worse nostalgia than longing for something that never was.”

Joaquín Sabina

Roofs of a Spanish city

These people live in their own little world, a total distortion of reality. And by fantasizing like that , they glorify the past and the people in it. Just think of those who revere historical figures like Hitler or Mussolini. Even if they have brought some progress to their societies, the crimes they have committed should bury any feelings of nostalgia.

Nostalgia as motivation

Collective nostalgia can greatly affect the behavior of the group that experiences it. When you share the longing for a particular world with the majority of the members of a group, it is much easier to act in a way that will bring that state back into place. And when a large group wants to bring the past into the present, they might turn to violence when other methods don’t work.

“It’s a strange pain: dying of nostalgia for something you will never experience.”

Alessandro Baricco

Collective nostalgia sometimes allows one to predict collective action. The more intense the group feeling, the more likely it is that people will take to the streets. They are more likely to covet what they want, their glorious past. But the past is just that, it’s gone, and emotions will eventually completely control the protesters. And these emotions are mostly negative.

Anger and contempt can mobilize the group when directed at other people. When one group thinks nostalgically about how society used to be and decides that another group is to blame for change and also prevents them from restoring past circumstances, negative emotions and aggressiveness become more likely. Corresponding actions may or may not conform to norms or laws – vandalism and violence are on the agenda.

Group of friends looks at a valley

Collective nostalgia for the good

But collective nostalgia doesn’t have to be negative. When it comes to people’s perception of their country, it encourages reflection on how it really was. Or even better, about what they long for in this little corner of the world. If their nostalgia is about values ​​like openness and tolerance, their actions will have honorable goals. Granted, that doesn’t mean the methods they use to achieve these goals are open and tolerant.

As you develop the ability to shape your nostalgia, make it your motivation to create a better world. Miss freedom and not borders, miss diversity and not exclusion.

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