This article is about a kind of conflict. This conflict is based between two key premises: forgetting things because it is uncomfortable to think about them, and clinging to what happened in order to escape the challenges of being fully present.
I will first refer to the kind of collective amnesia that we as humans have towards our shared history. I remember just as many of you may, sitting in history or social studies class and being bored out of my mind watching an old video about a war, or about a massive armed conflict that happened so many years ago.
In peace times, war is boring. War is on the edge of our periphery, and in many ways, this is a kind of adaptive denial. Why would we want to perseverate on something that was so devastating for so long? Well, there is something to be said for the remembrance of what it was like.
When we can recognize what’s happening in front of us from the lessons of old, and the need to take measured and strategic action, we don’t leave it to only a few people to call the shots. We remain positively engaged in our remembering by applying the lessons of the past to the present. What I have seen happen in the realms of social media has been the deterioration of our collective ability to discuss points without becoming defensive or malignant towards our opposition.
Opposition, if it reveals a logical fallacy, or some kind of underlying problem with a proposition, can be incredibly valuable. Ignoring the value of a thoughtful opposition on a topic is akin to throwing out money because it is in a different currency. Thinking critically about the feedback that respectful opposition provides and then translating it into our own lives where there is merit, is like us exchanging that currency at our own metaphorical bank. We get richer from the experience, when we know how to use it.
Our second premise in this conflict is the damage that can be done with over-retelling.
We see many oppressed groups that have been marginalized, discriminated against, and held to higher standards than their white and heterosexually male counterparts. Many of these people reliably retell their stories with the aims of preventing continued wrongdoing.
The intent behind these retellings is to stop the more socially powerful from falling back into the collective amnesia that perpetuates this oppression. This is important work; people should continue to be encouraged to care about one another by hearing authentic stories of adversity and triumph that generate empathy and commitment in the listener.
In some areas, however, the over-retelling of these stories can be harmful. I have actually witnessed the brainwashing of a child into believing that they cannot trust anybody who is not of their identical ethnicity and family’s world view due to the pain and unresolved psychological trauma of their loved ones. In this way, when it happens, we poison the mindsets of our children to camouflage our scars and hurt from the world.
This is a child, who, in their newness, has every right to form their own relationships with safe individuals once they learn what safe is. We do not want to delegitimize the pain of those who find value in retelling the story, and we certainly do not want to fall prey to foolishness by forgetting those lessons painfully won. But, there is also value in taking life as it comes.
Healing by its very nature is reconstructive. Most of our reality and how we process images, words, ideas or procedures is based on a learning theory known as constructivism. That means we create meaning around us. Even when the things happening around us have no inherent meaning.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, and I dare you to try it. See if you can look around your room and identify things only in terms of their most basic components without ascribing any meaning to the objects.
The definition of meaning or “judgements” for this exercise, are descriptions of where you got the object, comparisons to something else, or any associations to anybody to that object. Color, shape and size are OK. Chances are, if you can do this, you are able to remain in the middle of falling into abject denial of history and over-attachment to the pain of the past.
You are able to look at things with a kind of objectivity that facilitates problem-solving at a faster rate and be less likely to engage in the conflict depicted above.
Wishing you good mental health.