I’m slowly making my way through this gem of a book, and finding lots to sit and ruminate over. Somehow, Volf is able to simultaneously speak kindly and forcefully to very sensitive issues. So reading his work brings about all kinds of reflection and self-examination. I’m grateful for all of it.
Our memories are dangerous. They are wonderful gifts, of course, and we’d be impoverished without them. Why, without memory, no one would remember to pull out the old saw, “those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it” every single time people debate anything. But our memory is dangerous precisely because it is not static, but dynamic. Indeed, the retort to the old saw is probably best expressed, “yeah, but whose version of history should we cite?” Even in the course of a single conversation between two people, the participants can come away with starkly different recollections. Add time, and the gap only grows.
Psychologists debate the trustworthiness of memory, and the possible phenomenon of ‘invented memory’. But any introspective person can recognize their own propensity toward altered memory. Our accomplishments and our triumphs over adversity, as well as our failures and foibles, tend to grow over time. Similarly, the wrongs done to us, injustices suffered, and perceived adversaries often experience an even steeper growth rate. And in all of this, we tend to not remember that we are, all of us, both offended and offender, even if not simultaneously.
Of course, a cavalier dismissal of the past– and especially, our pain– is unwise. But we ought to know better than to completely trust our own memories and perceptions. Otherwise, my woundedness is only inflicted on my neighbor.