Never Judge

It was Thomas Gainsborough’s birthday on 14th May. Born in 1727 he was equally skilled as both a portrait and landscape painter and many of his paintings hang in the National Gallery in London.

Landscape in Suffolk by Thomas Gainsborough by Josephine Rutherford courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

It is his landscapes I particularly enjoy. The country scenes have a rustic charm about them which brings the subject to life. Whilst not over-romanticising the scenes, he nevertheless captures their bucolic attraction. I am particularly drawn to his landscape work because it covers a part of the countryside that I am familiar with and so there is an added bonus to recognising a little of what you see, some of it little changed from his time.

Cottage door
The Cottage Door by Thomas Gainsborough by Josephine Rutherford courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

It got me thinking about how we are influenced by the surroundings in which we grow up beyond the family home itself. For those of us lucky enough to have had a happy childhood the influence of those formative years will stay with us forever. A fond remembrance of the places of our childhood indicates a time we are glad to revisit in our minds without hesitation. But can the memory really be trusted?

All those warm and happy feelings have inevitably added extra layers to our memories, colouring them more beautifully because they have such a cherished place in our hearts. Our fondness has taken the original memory and made it larger, brighter, better. Is it possible that reality could ever have lived up to that?

Dream by Moyan Brenn courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

It is because of the disconnect between our memories and the reality that we should always pay heed to the sage advice to “never go back”. Why suffer disappointment and the trampling of reality over your memories when they can continue to exist without disturbance in the realms of your mind?

The struggles of everyday life can make looking back with nostalgia to earlier times attractive. But we should not forget what may have been halcyon days for us were someone else’s tough time. When I happened to remark on my fondness for my home village to a friend I grew up with they looked astonished and told me how they couldn’t wait to leave and never looked back. It made me realise that whilst I found the familiarity of a small community comforting, they found it suffocating.

Ultimately we all experience life through the prism of our own memories and experiences. It is why we should never rush to judgment on someone else. We are looking at their actions through our own prism not theirs. Their experiences might have been very different to ours, their perception at odds with our own. As the saying goes ‘Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.’ Sound advice indeed.