Differences of Memory

“That’s not what you said before! Your memory is really getting bad, and you are always changing your story!” The disagreement had turned into a personal attack – again.

When I heard that account of the wife becoming angry at the husband’s supposed lapse of memory, I cringed. My immediate thought was, So what if he doesn’t have perfect memory? None of us do. And, why did the wife act like a tiger on the attack? Is it conceivable that her anger is a defense mechanism for her possible memory lapse?

That particular misunderstanding was regarding Scripture in John 11: Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, and requested that He (Jesus) come and heal Lazarus; but Jesus waited two more days before going to Bethany. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” Some people think Jesus specified “Lazarus” so that all the other dead would not come out of their own graves.

Back to the fuss mentioned above: the wife thought the husband previously said there were others buried in the tomb with Lazarus, where the husband thought he merely mentioned the potential of other people rising from the dead. But again, so what? Does a lapse of memory – on either side – justify an attack on someone’s integrity? I don’t think so.

What is memory anyway? (Note: this article is not about Alzheimer’s.)

Memory is the process in which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding takes place while information is received from visual, electrical, chemical, and physical stimuli. Storage, the second stage, includes maintaining information over periods of time. The third stage is the retrieval of information for conscious consideration. Some retrieval attempts may be effortless, while other attempts are difficult due to the type of information we have stored, and life’s experiences we have encountered since storing that information.

“The hippocampus, an extension of the cerebral cortex, plays a big role in storing memories, but it’s also important in recalling them.” says Ulrike Schmidt, a Head Research Coordinator, RG Leader, Managing Senior Psychiatrist at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. Schmidt continued: “And a damaged hippocampus causes weird things to happen in the mind.”

Also, a lack of sleep often impedes memory storage; and you can’t recall what wasn’t stored.

However, as people age, a certain amount of brain atrophy – including the hippocampus – is normal. Early symptoms of hippocampal atrophy can include difficulty recalling the recent past, and can produce disorientation.

Our memories are also subject to contamination and distortion. Lawyers often fool us with suggestive questions, and false memories can easily be manufactured. And even though a woman named Jill Price became famous and inaccurately labeled as “The woman who couldn’t forget,” it has been proven that photographic memory and total recall is not 100% accurate. We all have faulty memory – some of us more than others.

Example: if five people witness an accident, we would have five differing testimonies – and all five would most-likely be at least partially correct. Nevertheless, some folk, such as Jill Price, do have excellent memory about things she continually reviews.

So, what is the key?

There is no one key. Proper nutrition, proper sleep, and especially paying attention to what you are experiencing are foundational. Your brain is where memory is stored, so take care of your brain; but that demands proper care for your entire body. The schools, training, mental disciplines, games, etc. are secondary.

Living peacefully, primarily internally, is especially important. Jesus Christ is interested in how we live because our understanding – including wisdom – determines how we mature as individuals, and how we grow in our relationship with others. A good memory aids in this endeavor. Galatians 5:22-23 briefly lists the fruit of the Spirit. They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

So, control yourself, be gentle, and stop disputing or arguing. Instead, learn to discuss, but don’t be pushy or aggressive. In non-critical issues, it’s better if you don’t demand that you are right and the other is wrong. Admit that no one’s memory – yours included – is perfect, and admit that not all erroneous memories are reason for conflict. Kindly agree to disagree and preserve your relationship.

However, go ahead and work to improve your memory. And when there is a difference of memory regarding a non-critical issue, let it go. Rise above the situation; allow the other person freedom of expression. Isn’t that what you want? Who knows: it may very-well be that you both are partly correct – therefore, partly incorrect.

Don’t lock-up; lighten up. As you release tension, you create the mental and spiritual environment that makes it easier to recall the truth of the matter. Sadly, the couple mentioned above hasn’t figured that out yet. But you can if you try, and ask the Lord to help you.

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