Bad memories leave room for growth
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 15:09
If you could forget your worst memory, would you do it? If you had a plethora of regrets, would it be worth it to clean the slate and start over? I think not. If you could forget your bad memories, what would stop you from making the same mistakes over and over again? Memory researcher Malcolm MacLeod at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland seems to have honed in on a technique that can assist subjects in training themselves to block bad memories.
There is a saying that you should remember history lest you be doomed to repeat it. A few years ago, when text messaging was a new and curious phenomenon, I could not keep my eyes from the screen of my Nokia — not when I was in class, at work or even driving. So, one morning on the way to work, I ran over a squirrel. It’s not a huge deal, I know, but for all you animal lovers out there, I’m sure you can feel my shame and remorse. If I chose to erase that horrible memory from my consciousness, who knows what other furry darlings (or worse) would be subject to meet a grisly demise under my steel-belted radials in the future?
Let us look at the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The protagonist, Joel Barish and his girlfriend Clementine had a relationship that had gone sour. They fell in love, and due to her wild nature and his boring ways, they eventually grew to be bitter and even hateful toward one another. Barish decided that the best solution to his heartache would be to completely erase all his memories of Clementine. So, he went to see a specialist who would come into his home while he slept, and when he awoke, all his memories of her would be annihilated. The process (thankfully for him) went backward. His worst memories were erased first until all that was left were the blissful moments that he soon realized he could not live without. When the sweet memories began to disappear, he panicked. That leads me to ask: Are the bad memories worth losing over the good ones, or even at all? What are the bad ones over the good ones after all? If all we had were good memories, what would be the point?
We are taught, no matter how we were raised, to learn from our mistakes. These mistakes are inevitably steeped in bad, even horrible, memories. This brings me back to my original question: If you could erase your bad memories, what would keep you from repeating them again and again? All experience is a good experience, whether it causes us pain or not. It causes us to feel, to learn and to grow. The greatest thinkers and doers of all time, they made mistakes, and if they had forgotten them, they would have never progressed and would have never taught us to do the same.
Why is slavery a bad thing? Because we remember all the anguish it caused, all the innocent people who were robbed of a meaningful and productive life. Why shouldn’t you kick that big rock? Because you kicked it once before and you remember breaking your toe. Why shouldn’t I send this text? Because the last time I sent a text while driving, I killed Rocky. Don’t forget your fears or mistakes because if you do, they will happen again, and who knows what the consequences will be the next time. If you survived your mistakes the first time, you owe it to yourself and to mankind to not make that mistake again.
As author and journalist Joshua Foer said, “The more we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it.”