Adulting 4: The inherent problems of A La Carte History.
Apparently, a good tale grows with the telling; this is especially true of me with my memories. After all I do love a good story.
One of my favourites is the tale I tell, when I explain
to people how I met my oldest friend. It is a good story and it contains the kind of elements
that would illicit the response I tend to be looking for.
The first walk to the new school, the nervousness of
being the new kid in class, the discomfort of new school clothes, meeting my
new teacher, an argument with the annoying kid in class, who quickly became my
It is a nice whimsical story,
but these days, if I am honest I have no idea if its true or not. This is because I was seven
at the time & I have altered it many times since over the years. I suspect Chris does not know either, but I know
that his version of events will differ from mine.
It is well known that our memories are not particularly
good. The truth is, we all do this kind
of thing with our memories quite a lot, especially the unpleasant ones. We retell them to fit our current narrative. And it does not seem to matter if it was four
decades ago or forty minutes ago, we are just not reliable when it comes to the
past. We re-imagine our memories &
mould them to reinforce our current self-image, especially the memories where we
have done things, we are not proud of.
Our personal history is not a just timeline of fixed
milestones & events. To me it feels more like a narrative, a story that is ever changing
& evolving according to need. We consciously
and unconsciously mould them to fit the requirements of the time.
The truth always seems to be different from our memory of
things. However small there is always a difference. Something we forgot. Or
perhaps the things we avoid because we do not want to face them. The
uncomfortable truth, like remembering a loved one then realising they were a
And of course, I should not forget that other people may
remember the same event differently.
I have a feeling that we do the same when it comes to our
Bit of a thorny subject these days.
As Brits we tend to take quite a distinct view of our
history, we tend to look back fondly to a golden age of empire. An imagined & rehearsed history where things were so much better. Where we are the good guys bringing the
light of reason to a grateful world. That is the story we often tell ourselves and we have a tendency to cling to it.
But, how do we know? We were not there. All we have most
of the time are the stories we tell ourselves and the assumptions we make that fit our comfortable
narrative. Very often these stories are
based on received wisdom, rather than any real knowledge.
And of course, we can be quite dismissive of those who
are presenting a truth that runs counter to our own. We can feel threatened by it, even though we
were not involved because our own narrative is disturbed by it. Its easier to get upset or outraged, than face a different view of our history.
I have not even mentioned slavery or the people who
profited from it. Clearly an issue to be discussed at greater length, by cleverer minds than mine. Just consider the outrage the National Trust Faced earlier this week though, when they acknowledged the truth of many of their properties.
Like shared memories, our viewpoint of history will
inevitably vary from those of others. The truth about shared memories like
history is wider than our own view of it. Our own opinion of our shared history is not the only valid one.
However much we try we cannot treat history as an A La
Carte menu, by clinging exclusively to our own version of it.
Sooner or later someone will expect you to eat the meal
you ordered & then pay for it afterwards.