Monday, November 26, 2012

Bad Memories

If, like me, you are active on Facebook, you know that the program helpfully suggests all sorts of people you might like to have as friends, based on its comparison of your digital profile to those of millions of other Facebook users. Most of the people it suggests to me are either people I already know, but have no particular interest in "friending," or people I've never heard of before and have no particular interest in knowing. The other day, though, it came up with a friend recommendation that brought back a tidal wave of bad memories.

The individual Facebook suggested I might want to "friend" was a despicable bully who made my grade-school and middle-school life utterly miserable. He and his friends believed that smaller, bookish people like me were put on earth for the sole purpose of making him feel powerful by giving him someone to torment. People may change over time, but I doubt that this individual has changed that much. I suspect he found a career as a debt collector or bouncer in a cheap club where he can continue making people's lives a living hell and get paid for it.

I hadn't thought about that person for many years, and have no interest whatsoever in being on the same continent with him, much less "friending" him. But this incident reminds me of a topic I've written about twice before in my blog, and which was the subject of an interesting opinion piece in Sunday's Washington Post ...

In December of 2006, I wrote an untitled post about a simple, yet profound question posed by Lance Morrow in his book Evil: An Investigation: what happens if nobody ever forgets? His question dealt with the inability of some people to forgive wrongs done in the distant past, and how that desire to cling to a hateful memory and seek vengeance prevents healing and moving on with life - Jews will never forget the Holocaust, American blacks will never forget slavery, Palestinians will never forget the creation of Israel, Armenians will never forget the genocide of 1915, and so on. What happens if nobody ever forgets? ... every wrong done by one person or group to another lives on in bitter memory. Forever.

A few years later, in April of 2010, I wrote a post titled Remembering to Forget that was based on a related idea: the observation by Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger that the Internet and cheap digital memory have led to an environment in which nothing is ever forgotten because everything can be simply and cheaply remembered ... an environment where the default value of a memory is save rather than forget.

And yesterday in the Washington Post, Mr Mayer-Schoenberger revisited his concept of the importance of forgetting in an interesting and timely article titled, Can We Forgive If We Can't Forget? His theme is summed up in this wonderful quote from the article:

"With comprehensive digital memories all around us, forgetting one another’s offenses becomes more difficult; through our digital tools we’ll be alerted to all that we thought we had forgotten. This will make it harder for us to forgive."

I had forgotten about the stupid bully from my childhood until Facebook suggested that I might want him as a friend. And when the memories came rushing back, there was no thought in my mind of reaching out and "friending" him and forgiving him for the misery he caused me ... all I remembered was the fear and the shame I'd endured at his hands every day all those years ago. 

Today I'm a perfectly happy professional adult, married to a great lady, with three wonderful children, six beautiful grandchildren and a large circle of friends ... and I still detest that one schoolyard bully I last saw nearly fifty years ago. 

I suppose I have proved Mr Meyer-Schoenberg's point.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

Your profound essay this morning points out an unforseen problem of the internet: it's a readily available store of possible information to revive memories, some good and some bad.

There's another problem: what people "remember" can be potentially manipulated by slight misinformation about the experience or information that actually took place. Our memories are necessarily imperfect: this may be just as well, as we could be overwhelmed by the amount of information in our memory storage. This contributes to why peoplediffer in terms of what is "remembered."

I wonder why people who experience traumatic pain, violence, rape, or cruelty don't experience psychogenic amnesia about those events. It would seem to be a blessing it they did!

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Wow. That was a great post Bill.
I, thankfully, was never really bullied but my husband was. He has told me of his tormenter and how he dreaded that walk to school and knowing he was going to be beaten, his lunch taken etc.
Rick was a skinny little kid who lived in fear you see.

Fast Forward 20 yrs or so and Rick is a strapping 6'2" and anything but skinny kid. His arms are the size of my thighs. So imagine the bully's surprise seeing Rick. He didn't recognize him. Rick now towered over him. They were both in a public rest room washing hands and Rick asked, "Do you remember me?" He said, "No should I?"
Rick told him his name. The bully backed up. He began to stutter and stammer an apology and then said, "Wow you really grew up."
Rick said the fear in his face was all he needed to see. He had no intentions of bullying him or hitting him. But at least this guy knew the feeling even if for a fleeting moment. Rick put out his hand to shake his said, "you tormented me for years, don't look so scared. I was the tormented and would never be the tomenter." He shook his hand and the guy exhaled loudly.
The bully said was, "Sorry I was such an ass and thanks for not hitting me." They both laughed and walked out together. I don't know that I would have been so generous. That is why I say Rick is a better version of me. :-)

Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

Facebook repeatedly puts people in the same kind of situation as high school class reunions: a pointed reminder of how things were. And this includes the bullying and rejection. I see most of my classmates in my community and church; there are a few I'd rather avoid.

Mike said...

Most of my friends in high school were smaller than me. Maybe I was a protector and didn't even know it.