As children we were often advised to forgive and forget what we perceived as wrongs. We might have made a token gesture to please our parents, but the perception of having been wronged persisted. So why is it so hard to forget?
Recent findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggest that choosing to forget uses more brain power than trying to remember. Unwanted or traumatic events require more attention focused on them in order to obliterate these memories, the study says.
This seems like a paradox to me. Trying to forget something that has affected you negatively is easier said than done. So, one doesn’t need to focus on it as it is always there at the back of the mind, like a niggling ache.
It is human nature to dwell on an experience that has made one feel angry, inadequate or frustrated. We relive the pain or sense of betrayal time and again. Only with the passage of time are you able to come to terms with what has happened and finally move on.
We are told that holding on to anger hurts us more than the person who did you wrong. A saying that makes more sense to me is always forgive, but never forget. And the one I like the most is “some forgive and forget, more forgive and remember, most forgive and remind”.
Plans all forgotten
This resonates with me because it so eloquently expresses my experience within my family as a child. My siblings and I were not the kind to forget and move on. Reminders were dredged up at every opportunity to score points or to put down someone who was being particularly obnoxious.
The study also suggests that it is so much easier to remember than forget. I am not so sure about this. Why am I so sure? Almost every day I find myself trying to remember certain things I had planned to do that day, but when the new day dawns I find I have conveniently forgotten all my plans. Perhaps these were tasks that were not particularly exciting but needed to be done nevertheless.
And dreams? Why is it that I can never remember these? I have a friend who can recount her dreams in such detail that it makes me wonder if she is making it up as she goes along. Her narratives are full of conversations, details of location and sensory experiences that make one wish they figured in them too.
Distant past clearly recalled
One thing I am good at is remembering birthdays so perhaps there is hope for me. In fact, it is I who reminds my friends of these important dates and set the ball rolling as it were.
However, I have been known to come up short on a few occasions. A friend whom I wish every year without fail for several decades now recently rang me up and said accusingly, “How could you of all people forget my birthday this year?”
She was so incensed by my memory loss that she felt she had to let me know I had disappointed her! Apologising profusely, I tried to explain how the date kept cropping up in my mind but when the day actually arrived, my memory failed me.
Humans tend to prize remembering. We marvel at those who can recall details from a distant past as clearly as if it were yesterday. Proud parents parade their children in front of guests to recite poems, testing the patience of the visitors!
After much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I forget to remember and remember what I should forget.
—Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.