Old Stories


I just finished listening to the current episode of The TED Radio Hour. It is a great show that takes inspiring TED Talks and groups them under a specific theme. This week it was about memory and what an eye opener it was! One of the speakers was Scott Fraser, a forensic psychologist. He works with attorneys who want to convince a jury that the story told by a witness to a crime isn’t quite as accurate as the witness thinks it is. Scott describes the research he has done on our ability to remember things and his primary finding is that all of our memories are reconstructed memories and they are constantly changing, even as we are talking about them. He has been able to demonstrate the we remember all sorts of things that are really the product of post-experience information – whether someone else agrees with us about it, constant retelling, etc. In other words, most of the memories we have, especially from long ago, are probably incredibly inaccurate from the perspective of “what really happened”. And even those people who are CERTAIN that the way they remember something is the way it actually occurred, are no more accurate than those who are less certain.

This got me thinking about how frequently our memory of an event shapes how we engage with people and can determine if a relationship has a good future or not. We are just coming out of the holidays, a time when families often gather, and stories are told and retold. Some of these are light and joyful, others not so much. Regardless, they can set the stage and mood for how we assess others and their role in our own happiness (or lack there of).

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself if the story you have running in your mind about an incident that happened between you and someone else is accurate or not? If we know that memory is malleable and dynamic, could it be possible that our narrative is a product of what we felt at the time of the incident – sadness, jealousy, disappointment, etc. – and the facts of how it played out are not very close to what actually occurred? Uh oh… What would that mean if that was true? If we no longer had reason to hold a grudge because we had the facts wrong, what then? 

The start of a new year is such a wonderful time to move forward with a fresh set of eyes, and open heart. Maybe instead of making the usual resolutions, you might consider reflecting on an old story that has created a distance between you and someone else. If there was a specific event that continues to cause you pain, can you find the space to doubt the ‘facts’ that might allow you to step toward a different, more satisfying relationship with that person? It’s hard to admit we might be wrong, but my oh my can it be worth the effort!

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