I revisited an old stomping ground today – my old school in the Drakensberg. It conjured up quite a few memories. Memories of hikes through the mountains, tubing down the flooding rivers, running down from the school to go for swims in the river during school breaks. As I was walking along the river, I realised that it was different to what I’d remembered, surely a thought that’s come to us all in similar situations. We usually think to ourselves, “my, how this has all changed!”. Yes, it’s been a long time since I was there and there are indeed new building and roads and fences where there used to be open spaces. But my memories had distorted and taken on a life of their own, changing certain details and obscuring others, filling in gaps with fanciful embellishments and morphing objects and people where similarities existed.
It reminded me that our memories are fickle, not at all as solid and reliable as we think. They are not a digital recording of the event, captured perfectly in our minds and available for immediate recall whenever we so choose. They are intricately bound to our emotions and frame of reference at the time, coloured accordingly and often linked to other seemingly unrelated occurrences, people and events. We haven’t properly figured out how they work yet, but we know they are fallible, as many studies have shown.
Take this into account when next you base any important decisions today on memories of events or people from your past. Your picture may not be accurate as you think.