I guess I should begin by telling you that this
column is not my fault, so if it doesn’t make any sense don’t blame me.
I mean, they called up and said “How would
you like to do a Commentary?”
So I said, of course, “What’s that?” And they said, “It’s whatever you want it to be. Just don’t be too offensive.” And I said, “Well, what does it have to look like?” And they said, “That’s up to you.” So I said okay.
So, it goes like this. Last night I stopped in at the corner store to mail a parcel. It’s one of those places that sells candy bars and has a little post office in the corner. You know the kind: they’re all over the country and you probably have one in your corner of the world.
So, I say to the kid behind the counter, “I’d like to mail this parcel.” And he says, “I don’t know if you can do that. The scales are turned off and I don’t know if I can turn them on.”
So, he goes to the scales and turns them on but they won’t weigh the parcel and the kid says to me, “I don’t know how to do this. They never taught me.”
Now this sounded real familiar to me. I hear it a lot at work. It shows up in various forms, the most common of which are “Nobody told me I needed to do that” and “No one told me how to do it.”
What is going on here? How come so many people think
that the responsibility for learning is “out there”? How come the kid in
the corner store didn’t say, “I haven’t learned how to do that yet”?
Anyway, this whole little episode got me to thinking about how memory works “I guess I made this leap because I was remembering times when I responded the same way myself. I know this is a big leap, but hang in there with me for just a few more minutes.
So, I was thinking about memory and what’s true and
what isn’t (Ah! there’s the connection) and this distinction we make
between truth and fantasy. You know, like when a kid tells you a story
and you wonder if that’s what really happened or if it’s just his
interpretation of what happened. So, you might try to collect more
information so you can reconstruct what really happened so you know what
to do. I know that some of you just accept what the kid says and think
of it as his version of reality and work with that, and that’s another
approach. And maybe it works for you.
So, I was thinking: we’re always trying to separate truth from fantasy, or story from reality, in our work “even if we accept the kid's version of what happened as “true for him,” we are still curious about what’s true and what’s fantasy. This is a private moment we’re having here, so you can admit this to yourself if you want.
Now, here’s the problem as I see it. Every time we remember something, we remember it differently because we are different when we remember it. We don’t stay the same from one minute to the next, one day to the next, or one year to the next. We change. What’s important to us changes. How we see, feel, or experience things changes. So, every time I remember something, it is a different “me” that remembers it. It is a different me that reinterprets, some would say “reinvents,” the memory. As we change so does how we remember things. Now, if this is true, I don’t have any real memories, I only have my current interpretations of previous experiences. Truth disappears.
So, as I’m driving away from the corner store I was thinking, “Maybe what we should be doing is trying to separate truth from reality.” And the kid in the store is right. It’s not his fault. It’s just that nobody taught him how to operate the scales. And that’s true because that’s how he has structured up his reality. Truth reappears. Truth is the reality of how you have constructed your experience of it.
So, I stop and go back to the store. I say to the kid, “I really need to mail this parcel. When do you think you will know how to operate the scales?”And he says, “I–ll ask the boss when I come in tomorrow.” “Okay,” I say, “I–ll come back then.”
So, what does this all mean? I have no idea. I do notice, however, that as I reconstructed my experience with the kid in the corner store, my experience of that experience changed.
At least that’s how I remember it. Later, when I re-remember it, it–ll be different of course. Because it will be a different me remembering it. I guess what I’m saying here is that self is the filter of memory, truth, and reality, and if I want to have different memories than the ones I have now, all I have to do is change my self and the memories will change themselves. So, I should quit dwelling on the past and focus on the present. At least for the moment.
And, like I said this column isn’t really my fault because they (whoever they are) never told me how to do it. And that’s the real truth. For today, anyway.
This feature: Freeman, A. (1993). Recent ramblings. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 8, 4. pp. 73-74.