Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

The End of Memory

January 19, 2007

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.

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5 Responses to “The End of Memory”

  1. sonja says:

    Hey … I really did walk uphill in both directions to school. I’m not making that up.

    Or … am I? I’ve listened as my father’s stories have changed over the years. I wonder if mine will?

    I can only pray that grace will intercede and I will have a clear-eyed vision of my own ancient-future.

  2. tim says:

    i remember a time when i would wake behind your couch to a perfectly percolated cup of coffee. oh so thankful of this memory.

  3. kate says:

    I’ve been thinking along these lines a lot lately. And it really freaks me out.

  4. Lora says:

    This is insightful, beautifully written and vital to remember………so i’m going to try really hard to remember it. One of the basic ideas, as i remember it, was “other people have offended me and I’ve been wounded” —that was pretty accurate, right?

    There are so many implications to this, just one of which is witness testimony in courts of law. Kinda scary.

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