One step forward, two steps back… ?

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Whenever we have a setback, we like to say:

One step forward, two steps back.

What does this really mean?

Has your life truly been a series of movements backward? Is it possible you are simply framing whatever situation you’re in from the lens that allows you to infuse it with negativity, discouragement, and hopelessness – that allows you to be the victim?

Of course, for many in our world, it truly is two steps back. Too many of us, both here in America and overseas, are trapped in cycles of poverty and oppression.

At the same time, there are also many of us who are in fact generally moving forward, yet telling ourselves we aren’t. We experience an occasional setback and then act as if this is the norm.

…. step backward > step forward > step backward > step backward > step forward > step forward > step forward > step forward > step backward > step backward > step forward > step backward > step forward > step forward > step forward > step forward ….

“One step forward, two steps back!!!”

When we say “one step forward, two steps back” many of us ignore all the other steps that came before and are to come in the future. We act as if there were only three steps in the equation, not thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

In my experience, the story people choose to live by seems to be only loosely correlated with their circumstances, if at all. I have met many privileged, wealthy Americans with boundless opportunities who are stuck in despair and hopelessness. I’ve also met folks crammed into small shacks in the slums of Mumbai, spending their days digging through piles of trash looking for bits of plastic to be reused, who are filled with optimism and a sense of possibility for their future.

What accounts for these different mindsets and perspectives? How do we help more of us frame our story from the lens of progress and possibility, rather than decay and despair?

These questions have felt of particular importance after Trump’s election. Yes, this has been a huge step backward. And we have good reasons to despair and believe our society is now decaying and on the brink of a major downturn.

But we can also choose to view it as a setback in a broader trajectory of progress.

For humanity generally, there have always been setbacks. They fill up our history books. We can’t ignore them and pretend as if they didn’t happen.

But there has also always been profound movement forward – if viewed from a broad enough perspective. We are now healthier, more connected, and less engaged in war and brutality than ever before in the history of humanity. We understand ourselves and our universe better than ever. We consider the health of all of humanity more than ever before.

We have a lot of work to do in the days, months, and years ahead. Part of this work is seeing the frame we are working from, consciously deciding if it truly serves us, and if not, choosing a new one.


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