I’ve been thinking about reconciliation this week. Partly the company I’ve been keeping, partly it’s that time of year. British Legion poppies are blossoming, reminding us of those British and Commonwealth personnel in the Services who have lost their lives in times of conflict. White poppies too, worn by those promoting a culture of peace, remembering all destroyed in war.
The trouble with remembering is that it is very subjective. Our previous experience, mood, even genetic predisposition can affect dramatically how and what we remember.
Ask anyone who has been traumatised how they remember a subsequent event and that earlier experience that caused the trauma may well act as the filter through which the later event is interpreted.
Think more positively of the frisson of falling in love. Everything that happens in relation to that primary happening is coloured, changed, enhanced by that experience of love. Like a pebble dropping in a pond. The ripples ricochet.
If we remember so differently, harbouring our grudges, defending our power and privileges both nationally and personally with the assurance that we know the truth, I wonder what we actually think we’re remembering?
There’s significant psychological evidence that humans find it surprisingly difficult to moderate their behaviours when new information comes to light. Langer (1989) concluded that we were inclined to self-delusion. We go for understandings that shore up our self-image and understanding. It doesn’t bode well for the survival of our species or planet.
If remembering might be about helping me believe certain things about myself, can I remember in a way that helps me become self aware, open to things outside my comfort zone.
The research studies may make disheartening reading but there is evidence that we do change our perceptions, behaviours and habits with help.
I’ve been thinking about the people I seem to habitually forgive and move on with. Why do I give them preferential treatment? Three things are in play: power, respect/love and kindness.
Power is the most malignant. The pragmatic reality is that if someone holds more power and influence over aspects of your life than you do yourself, then, when push comes to shove, you have two choices. Live with their power however they manage it or you, or walk away.
I used to believe love could heal all things. I’m older and wiser. My love and/or respect enables me to empathise. It adds a powerful filter which makes it possible to think the best in the worst circumstances.
Kindness is for me, the greatest and most disarming of the three. When I can see power at work; when I cannot love or respect, kindness is the most authentic thing of all.
So while my heart is unsettled by much that surrounds the selective memory of remembering wars and conflicts, I haven’t the slightest desire to impose my Quaker predisposition on anyone. It is a matter of kindness that we give each other the space to remember and forget what we need to, and be grateful we live in a place where we can still just about do this.