“What would you say to your sixteen year old self?”
Participants in the radio programme offered various suggestions. Most were able to imagine themselves as being attentive to advice from the future; most believed themselves as having something to say to their younger selves. Perhaps the gap between their present and past selves was not so great; perhaps they were essentially the same people, perhaps they had a clear recall of exactly the people they were in their teenage years.
Thinking about the question, there was an awareness of having a self-knowledge considerably less developed than those on air. It is forty years since I was sixteen; it is not so hard to remember the things I did, but to have a conversation would demand recalling how I thought, and such memories are far less clear.
In my memory, 1976-77 was not a happy time. But, having been married for thirty-three years to a patient wife who describes me as “morose at the best of times,” that a year would be recalled as an unhappy time would hardly differentiate it from most of the other years. Perhaps I might say to my sixteen year old self that I should be happier, because things turn out well in the end, but then the sixteen year old would probably ask, “what do you mean by well?”
1976-77 was the year when secondary school ended and sixth-form college began; it should have been a time of delight at the new opportunities that presented themselves, an enjoyment of hitherto unknown freedoms, a time when new friendships were formed and when new experiences were welcomed. Perhaps I might say to my sixteen year old self that I should be less shy, more outgoing, more confident. But my sixteen year old self would say that you need to have self-confidence to be more confident, that you need self-confidence to be outgoing. My sixteen year old self might ask how long it took to find self-confidence, how long it took to overcome painful shyness. My sixteen year old self might ask if the awkwardness of those times has gone away, or whether it still lurks just beneath the surface.
L.P. Hartley once wrote, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” He was right, not only do they do things differently, they think differently.
To talk to my sixteen year old self would be to talk to a stranger, and what useful advice can you give to someone you don’t know?