Which Version of You Is More Important to You?

Four-year-old Lilly is spinning around and around. She found her mother's white scarf and wrapped it all around her body. And right now she is dancing as it is becoming to a princess. There is no doubt in Lilly's mind that she is a princess. Or to be more precise, that she will be a princess when she grows up. Questioned as to how this will be accomplished she refrains from discussions. It's just going to happen, she knows.

Back to the Future

What exactly makes our future selves more relevant than our present ones?

Twenty years later Lilly is sitting in the University's library, studying for an exam. She had to let her friends know, that she won't be joining their party, because the exam is really important. Her future depends greatly on the marks she will achieve. So the Lilly of the present cannot dance for the sake of future Lilly's good career chances. We all know situations like that.

But what exactly makes our future selves more relevant than our present ones? And why do we not see an equal obligation to our past selves? One could argue for a moment, that Lilly needs to do whatever is in her powers to realize 4-year-old Lilly's wish to become a princess, just as much as she is working for present Lilly's desire to become a lawyer.

The mortality paradox

Yet our perception of time does not usually lend itself to such evaluation. Michelle de Montaigne writes:

“To lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence, is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago.”

And Maria Popova looks at this topic in her article "Montaigne on Death and the Art of Living".

A hierarchy of pain

The pain we feel at any given moment hurts worse than the memory of a pain felt in the past.

Could it have something to do with pain. The pain we feel at right now hurts worse than the memory of a pain felt in the past. And the fear of a certain pain we will experience in the future is for some an even stronger motivation to do whatever necessary to avoid that pain. We know both types of people, those that clench their teeth a rip of the band-aid to get it over with. And those who slowly, bit by bit, pull it off, coping with the pain at each given moment.