When I was very young, I remember my mother taking me for a walk near a railroad trestle, and seeing a crowd formed around emergency responders who were trying to rescue a child whose head was stuck in the trestle. The rescuers were working against the clock, because the train was due to pass at any time. The problem with this memory that I still carry around with me is that it isn’t real. At least that’s what my mother told me forty years later when I shared it with her. Yes, she said, we walked near a railroad trestle and a a child who had gotten his hand stuck, not his head. Emergency crews extricated his hand and that was the end of the story, at least according to her recollection.
Have you ever argued about an event in the past with another person, usually a relative, based on each one’s memories about what took place, and both of you were certain that your recollection was the correct one? This takes me back to the book I’ve blogged about lately, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, by David DiSalvo, who says, “What constitutes memory over time are general impressions of events with spotty details — and the older we get the spottier they become.” This is an argument for journaling as a way to capture events while our memories stay fresh.
He adds that our memories are malleable. Here’s a scary research example that demonstrates this: At the beginning of the study, researchers asked a group of participants how likely, as children, they were to have witnessed a demonic possession and how confident they felt that they had experienced one themselves. Following this, they read articles about demonic possessions and testimonials of adults who said they had witnessed these, which strengthened the research subjects’ opinions that this could happen and led them to express more confidence that they had experienced this personally. Think of this the next time you are willing to go to the mat with someone over something you both experienced way back when. As DiSalvo says, “Feeling right is not the same thing as being right,” and before the argument gets bloody, admit that you were the victim of demonic possession as a child and move on.