The Things We Forget
Memory is a funny thing. We rely on our memory, even though it is clearly not all that reliable. We all remember things that aren’t important, but that’s not a problem. It is better to have something you don’t need than to need something you don’t have. All to often with memory the opposite happens. We forget something we should have remembered. We need something we don’t have.
Forgetfulness often comes with accusations. When someone is accused of doing something unacceptable, like using vulgar language or doing mean things, they will often counter that they don’t remember taking such actions. If they truly did something bad, surely they would remember!
I don’t know what types of things people always remember. Memory is a difficult thing to understand. But I do know there are a least two types of things that people always forget. People don’t remember things they never did, and they don’t remember things they did a lot.
Of course people can’t remember things they never did. Well, I guess they could, but that would be crazy. They would have to have some kind of ESP, past-life regression, or plane old severe psychological issues.
It seems to me if a person really didn’t do something, then they would say so. If you accuse someone of throwing gravy at passing vehicles, they should say, “I have never thrown gravy at a car, a truck, or even a motorcycle, even though they’re asking for it.” That would be, I think, a reasonable response for an innocent person.
If I accused someone else of the same thing, and they said, “I don’t remember throwing gravy at cars,” it would make me a bit suspicious. Why say you don’t remember? What bases are you trying to cover there? I’m not saying the person who says they don’t remember is a liar. But it is a weird thing to say.
I have never, ever hit a person with my car.
I can’t remember not wearing my seat belt, or rolling through a stop sign.
People can’t remember things they’ve never done. And they also can’t remember things they’ve done a lot. Do you remember breathing? Or blinking? Do you remember every meal you eat or nap you take? The answer is probably no. Things we do a lot blend into the background noise of our lives, and become difficult to sift out.
We all know ourselves at least a little bit better than we think we do. That is why if you accuse a kind person of saying a mean thing, they will deny it. They won’t dance around and say they don’t remember.
A person who is habitually cruel knows, on some level, that they are habitually cruel. If you accuse someone of cruelty, and they say, “I don’t remember,” instead of, “I didn’t,” it may be because they are in the habit of doing cruel things. Maybe they didn’t do the specific cruel thing you accused them of, but they do enough cruel things to warrant a disclaimer.
So we come to an old piece of wisdom that all small-time criminals know, and more public officials should learn: Always deny everything. Don’t say you don’t remember doing something bad, because there are two things people don’t remember: things they never did, and things they did a lot. It is better to just say you never transgressed than to admit guilt by trying to protect yourself.
Or, you could just not do bad stuff. But that is a different, much more difficult lesson.