Wednesday 19 October 2022

I remember... (or do I?)

As I was cycling up the fell this morning, I was passed by a Land Rover.  There's not much traffic up there in the early morning, and I know most of the regulars and their vehicles, so registered this as a stranger. When I got to the top, the open fell, I glanced around, wondering whether it was parked up somewhere, for the driver to go for a walk, or whether it had, perhaps, gone on to the farm where the road ends.  I couldn't see it, so assumed it was either ahead of me in a dip, or at the farm.

And I cycled on, up the fell and  back.  And as I was coming back towards the road, I met one of our neighbours, Charles, who lives half way up the hill, on his quad bike, leading the Land Rover, off-road, over the fell.  Doubtless there was some farming related activity they were engaged in.

So I thought 'Ah, the Land Rover must have been looking for Charles, gone past his house, and had to turn back to find him.' And then I realised: the Land Rover had passed me before I had passed Charles' house.  There was no reason to think that it had not gone straight there. I had only assumed that, because I had previously assumed that it was ahead of me on the road, when I got to the top of the fell. 

And this interested me, because I could see that I had nearly laid down a false memory. Had I not recalled that the Land Rover could have gone straight to Charles', and retained the idea that it must have been ahead of me and therefore had to turn round to go to find Charles, that would have been the truth as I remembered it. 

Why this interested me in particular is because I have recently been involved in a couple of situations where people's account of what transpired were very different, and serious allegations of bad behaviour ensued. 

In one case, the person on receiving end of allegations commented that she was the victim of someone putting words into her mouth that were never even contemplated let alone uttered.

In another, someone was accused of standing by when someone else was being bullied, when what he had observed was an awkward conversation between a socially unskilled manager and a team member. 

It is very easy to assume in such cases either that a complainant is exaggerating, or even vexatious; or that we should believe the victim. But I wonder if in at least some cases, the problems with memory that I mentioned above, may apply.

I can readily see that if I have felt upset, discriminated against or bullied (on the one hand) or if I have had a difficult conversation with someone who visibly got upset (on the other) my memory of the incident may not be 100% accurate. I might even remember as verbalised what I actually thought the other was (clearly, obviously...) thinking. And so I might, with no bad faith at all, give an account that was both subjectively honest and objectively incorrect; and further be very indignant when anyone challenged my account. 

At a personal level, that clearly suggests proceeding with a degree of humility and a somewhat tentative approach to making truth-claims about the past based on my recollection. And if engaging with others about such incidents, I think that an approach that explores the differing stories that people have about the incident is valuable. Which reminds me, Shifting Stories was recently re-printed: so consider this a plug! (as well, I hope, as a thought provoking post).


With thanks to  Jordan McGee  and  jean wimmerlin for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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