The Falsity of Memory vs. the Reality of Feelings

At the suggestion of Miss Angela, I’ve started reading Gretchen Rubin‘s The Happiness Project. This wonderful suggestion was the result of me sharing a recent incident where someone I’ve known a very long time essentially unloaded about 15 years worth of built-up issues onto me in grand mud-slinging style (aka Ad hominem). To say it was upsetting would be an understatement. To say it was extremely hurtful and completely unexpected would sum it up better. And per usual, being placed in this situation, I was so astonished that I became unable to properly defend myself or counterattack – mostly because I’m horrible with confrontation. If I feel legitimately offended by someone’s treatment of me, my preferred style is to roll things around in my head a while (aka, over-analyze) before I address it. If I feel that the relationship is worth salvaging, I then send a well-thought-out email to plainly express my thoughts on the situation in hopes of starting a non-confrontational conversation about what happened. Unfortunately, the blunt style of this email doesn’t go over well with types who can’t handle being put in their place. The last thing they want to acknowledge is that 1. They may have been wrong in the way they acted and 2. They may have to actually face the reality of another person’s feelings.

That last part, acknowledging the reality of another person’s feelings, was a small snippet in the parenting section of Rubin’s book. That, along with her mentioning the old adage that “everyone’s life is much more complicated than you know” really hit home for me. And not in a way that justified MY position in the current situation, but instead forced me to examine it from the other side.

From my personal experiences, most people have trouble pointing out the hurtful behavior of others at the time it occurs. This is mostly because we don’t want to make a big deal out of things, or we assume we will get over it and/or that it won’t happen again. This school of thought is fine, until the particular behavior continues to occur again and again and again. Now it’s a major problem that’s been allowed to magnify because one person was trying too hard to be laid back and the other never dreamed (or possibly didn’t care) that their natural behavior was hurtful to another human being. The same issue continues, tension starts to boil under the surface, seeping out in acts of equally bad behavior from the offended side and suddenly the top blows off and everyone suddenly believes they are the ones that were hurt originally.

A lot of the argument about who is right in a situation like this has to do with selective memory – why certain events/offenses are remembered one way by one person (or not remembered at all) and another way by another person. While there is still plenty of scientific debate as to where (or if) memory resides in the brain or in an external resonance (like the collective unconscious), some basic facts about memory seem to have been agreed upon. The one that most applies to the sort of situations I’m talking about is the idea of memory construction. According to Wikipedia, “Although we like to think that our memory operates like recording equipment, that is not actually the case…People can construct their memories when they encode them and/or when they recall them.” Long, scientific explanations aside, sometimes things happen exactly like you remembered, and sometimes other subsequent memories/experiences can affect the original memory. It then morphs into something not exactly true, but still closely resembling the actual occurrence. And most importantly, memories are stronger with some people than with others. Meaning that what may have seemed like a life-changing (or just memory-worthy) event to one person was just a flash-in-the-pan to another, who has since shuffled it to the back burner to make room for more personally important things. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen (or that it happened exactly/differently as remembered), just that it stuck with one person and not the other!

What I’m getting at (in my usual, long-winded fashion), is this: What if we all pretended that someone’s feelings/memories (including those not particularly flattering to ourselves) were not only valid but the only reality there is? I honestly don’t remember the hurtful behavior that I reportedly exhibited 15 years ago, and I don’t think it should have been brought up in the explosive way that it was. HOWEVER, I am ashamed and remorseful to think that I hurt another person so deeply, and am acknowledging the reality of this person’s memory and the right that they have to feel the way they do. I hope that they can forgive me for the pain I caused. And of course, if in doing so they can then seek my forgiveness for the more recent hurt that was caused, I’d be extremely grateful. But if they are unable to do both or either, I will certainly understand.

I am continuing to remember that, for better or worse, everyone is a teacher.

Happiness Project photo from Yogini Annie
Old-timey memory drawing from The Epoch Times

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4 thoughts on “The Falsity of Memory vs. the Reality of Feelings

  1. Pingback: Green 101: Intro to Sustainability Week 2 – Population Changes | F that S

  2. Yet, there is already all the difference between how one thinks and feels alone and how one thinks and feels with another person. The conceptual content may (for a time) be the same as the individual can think and feel by himself; but, the manner of experiencing will be totally different. Consider, for example, the type of listener who interrupts with his own concerns and is inclined to be annoyed and critical long before he understands what is said. With him, my manner of experiencing will be quite constricted. I will think of less and feel less than I do when I am alone. I will tend to say what I must in round, general, swiftly finished terms. I will not tend to feel deeply, or intensely, or richly. Certain things will never occur to me when I am with him or, if they do occur to me, I will save them for the time when I am alone, and can feel them through without the constricting effects of his responses. We all know this difference between the manner of our experiencing with certain persons as compared with when we are alone.

  3. Very interesting! Interrupting and/or not listening (while waiting for your chance to speak) is a common fault of human nature (and one that I am very guilty of!). Unfortunately all this does is result in NO-ONE’S point being made because people tend to feed off the energy/speaking style of another so the “conversation” becomes just one big interruption to see who can get in the last word. I agree that it takes some time alone, post-confrontation, to really examine what was said and to come to terms with it. That’s why I love the idea of “talking” via email – what may seem to others as me not being fully involved is really an invitation to say what needs to be said, without interruption, and to be FORCED to “listen” to the other point of view by reading what they have to say. Thanks for chiming in!

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