We all feel nostalgic sometimes. Then we wish that we are again in a certain period, or a certain situation, in something that has already happened. We suffer over something that is now over, something that we had and then lost. Perhaps it is about a person, a group (collective nostalgia), an object or an event.
Moreover, there are two different kinds of nostalgia. The difference is very important. The first form is a positive feeling, a nice memory of something that has passed or has been lost in time. The second form is a negative feeling. It’s a feeling of pain about something that you won’t get back. Still hope it comes back.
nostalgia for people
When we talk about nostalgia, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the desire for a loved one. Breakups, distance, or death are some of the things that give us that sense of longing. But nostalgia is no less important when it has to do with a place rather than a person.
In the Spanish language there is a word that speaks of this kind of nostalgia. It is that nostalgia that mixes melancholy with the longing for your homeland: “morriña”. The word comes from the Gallic language. They say that “morriña” is a longing for the country you come from. It means you miss the place you come from, along with all the other things, objects, and situations it conjures up in you.
There is another kind of nostalgia for situations or things from the past. We call it collective nostalgia. It is a shared longing for how society used to be.
At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard someone say, “Everything used to be better.” But comparing two different time periods is never fair. Because the memory gets distorted over time. So you may end up longing for a past that never really existed. Your selective memory will only recall events that make you feel even more nostalgic.
In some parts of the world, a large part of the population harbors a desire for dictatorships. They’re talking about how great they were. They sigh because in these modern times there is no firm hand. They cry out for a strong charismatic leader who will make their nation great again.
But it is clear that these desires leave out important parts of the past and present. They don’t think of all the freedoms that come when that authoritarian regime is over. They never mention the crimes that people have committed in the past that they so desperately want back.
These people live in their own little world, a complete distortion of reality. And by fantasizing in that way, they glorify the past and the people in that past. You only have to think of the people who worship terrible historical figures like Hitler or Mussolini. Even if they’ve made some progress for these societies, the crimes they’ve committed don’t hide nostalgia at all.
Nostalgia as motivation
Collective nostalgia is a group feeling. That is why it can powerfully shape the behavior of a group. When you share a desire for a specific kind of world with most of the people in your group, it is much easier to act. And if a large group wants to bring the past into the present, they can turn to violence when other methods don’t work.
Collective nostalgia can sometimes be a good prediction of collective action. The more intense the group feeling, the greater the chance that people will end up on the street. They will also be more likely to scream for what they long for, their glorious past. But the relationship is actually not easy. Emotions will completely control it. Most of the time, however, these emotions will be negative.
Anger and contempt can eventually mobilize the group if these feelings steer them toward other people. One group may feel nostalgia for how society used to be. That group can decide that another group is guilty and stop them from claiming their past. Then the chances are even greater that negative emotions and defensive actions will occur. These acts range from things to do with conforming to norms or laws, to things that move into illegal territory such as vandalism or violence.
A collective nostalgia for the good
But collective nostalgia doesn’t have to be negative. If the desire has to do with the old ideas that people have about their country, then they have to think about what that country really was like. Or even better, they think about exactly what they want for that country.
If their nostalgia is about values like openness and tolerance, then whatever actions they take will have more liberal objectives. We admit that this does not mean that the methods they use to achieve those goals will be open and tolerant.
If you have the ability to shape your nostalgia, make it your motivation to create a better world. Feel the lack of freedom and not limitation. Don’t miss diversity and not exclusion.