On Selective Memory…

Have you ever gotten back in touch with someone who, like a blast from the past, triggers a chain reaction of emotions? I think we can probably all relate to that.

Have you ever been unable to specifically put your finger on what actually happened? How did you meet this person? Where did you go? What did you talk about? How did you part ways? You recall the feeling, but not the occurrences.

The world always goes around full circle for me. Having lived a relatively international life, I would expect the opposite: that what (and who) goes around is unlikely to come back around. Contrary to my expectation, the world really is a very small place. While this is oftentimes an amazing realization, what really stumps me is the fact that my memory fails me so often.

In grade 11, as my parents loaded the car to go to the airport once again, I hugged my friends goodbye one at a time and told them that I loved them and would keep in touch. My parents, witnessing my distress, reminded me that it was the same drama last time… I would cry for a few days in the new and foreign place, and then I would get over it. My best friend’s dad at the time raised his finger in the air and, chuckling, noted: “Don’t worry, child. You will have a lot of trouble remembering all that has come to pass in your life. You might develop some issues (ya think???) but this is how our minds protect us.”

I’d like to say he was wrong because I remember what he said that day… but he was quite right.

I’ve come to the realization that memory really is inherently selective. Strings of emotion may survive the tide of time, but the details are blurred. How can we even say that what we believe happened, really happened?

This is not a fun topic for most people to explore. All of us want to be able to trust our memories. All of us want to believe that we at least know the full truth of our own lives, even if we have insufficient knowledge of the truths of the world. But, do we?

Human beings like being able to put things into a context; we like telling stories. We like categorizing segments of our lives… some choose time based categories (“when I was 5”), others choose phase based categories (“when I was into punk rock”), and others choose place based categories (“when I was in New York”). Whatever categorization strategy you use, you are indulging in an inherent human appreciation for storytelling. I suppose the root of this is that we recognize that memory holds the meaning of our lives… or, does it?

Have you ever told a story of something that happened when you were younger, only to be told by your mom that it wasn’t how it happened at all? Are you convinced you wore a pink dress to prom, but your mom insists it was white? Behold… the wonder of not one, but two, selective memories.

How do we know what really happened? Did anything really happen, or is the collective human memory nothing more than a jigsaw puzzle of fabrications desperate to fit into the pattern?

Perhaps the answers to my questions will never truly be known. If memory is indeed so selective that years blur into one consistent emotion, then how can anyone claim to be objective? We can’t. However, I do believe it’s important for us to be aware of our historic biases and selections when we are trying to map out a truth. This opens up so many doors to the possibility that everything we know, and everything we are, can be challenged. If we accept this, we embark on the path to enlightenment – I think! I’ll let you know when, and if, I ever figure it out.

In the meantime, join me in an experiment, and write a story to an old friend or family member about a meaningful time, at least 5 years ago, when they were present. Ask them to write the same story for you, including as much detail as possible. Compare.

Do the stories match?

And remember… we design our own luck!

M.

On the Secrets of Homes…

Growing up, I often heard a common phrase used in my mother culture: “homes are secrets.” This was often the go-to response when anyone verbalized a judgment about how others live their lives and the choices they make. Eastern cultures are known for their emphasis on community, but there is also a sacred element of privacy in the understanding that nobody knows what happens behind closed doors.

Each of us has a path to discover, and the revelations do not end until our lives end. Perhaps, there will even be more to discover after death. Our time in this world is so fleeting, a blip in the collective human memory. Why are we so keen on spending this precious time judging others?

If I’ve learned anything over the course of the past two years, as my Facebook feed started erupting with international stories of my friends’ milestones and setbacks, it is that we all do things differently. Some of us value education. Some value travel. Some value homes. Some value big weddings. Some value marriage. Some value being single. Some value wealth. Some value luxury cars. Some value huge book collections. Some value work. Some value retirement.

The bottom line is: everyone does life differently, and that is the beauty of it.

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On Affluence & Poverty…

This morning, I woke up thinking about affluence and poverty. I think we can all agree that wealth is a matter of perspective. You can be making 50k or 200k a year and consider yourself “poor” if you like keeping up with the Kardashians.  Meanwhile, in comparison to most people on Earth, you are exceptionally wealthy if you are making 50k independently. Social status is funny in this way; the measure of wealth and poverty is in constant flux depending on where you are standing.

For some reason, it seems more and more people around me are complaining about money these days. Perhaps it’s just a natural phase as things begin to change and evolve in our lives. There is a very clear rejection of the “rich” although, for all intents and purposes, I would not classify any of my friends as poor. In fact, I wouldn’t classify most people in this country as poor. I’ve seen poverty, and it isn’t the inability to purchase a BMW. Yet, oddly enough, I hear the phrase “we’re poor” being tossed around by people who are even more educated and have higher paying jobs than me.

I am often taken aback by such statements. “If I do not consider myself poor, how can you?” I wonder how little of the world they must have seen to so confidently complain and insist that they lack, all while I can very clearly observe their outrageous spending habits.

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On Intention…

In some Arabic cultures, when someone gets something they have been hoping for, people say: “her intention was pure!” or “he must have pure will!” This signals to a deeply held cultural belief that the pure of heart will always be cared for by God. They do not receive miracles or luck by accident, but rather, due to their own goodness.

Intention isn’t everything… but it certainly plays a big role in shaping the lives we build for ourselves, as it feeds our actions. In pursuit of good friends and fun company, one will find himself out of luck if he himself is neither friendly nor fun. In pursuit of wealth, one will find herself penniless when she exercises greed towards others. In pursuit of love, one stands alone and disheartened if his primary intention is to take from love, and not give back to it.

If we are aware of our negative intentions and recognize the consequences, we can put them in check and gradually practice intentions that are better aligned with the path of happiness. But, if we decide to excuse our negative intentions, we cannot hope that nobody will notice, because they will. We cannot escape our intentions; we might as well plaster neon signs on our foreheads that tell it like it is.

There will always be people out there who are better off, and worse off, than you are. Be genuinely happy for their successes. Be genuinely sad for their pain. Be genuinely afraid for them when they get sick. Be genuinely excited for them when they get that promotion. If you are not genuine, they will be able to tell, and you will have missed the point of this life entirely.

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On Intergenerational Blame…

“Kids today are spoiled by participation trophies!”

“Oh! Old people! They can never think outside the box!”

“Millennials and their avocado toast! Of course they can’t afford housing!”

“The Baby Boomers ruined the earth and the economy for us!”

STOP. Wait a minute. Fill your cup, put some liquor in it.

It is so easy to blame, but the root of blame is ignorance.

The only pathway to true understanding is conversation, research, and asking all the right questions. Blaming a group of people for something you don’t like only hinders the process of understanding what really caused the problem. Then, good luck solving it!

Newsflash: a generation consists of A LOT of people. Think about yourself for a moment. Which generation were you born into? How many of the stereotyped characteristics of that generation actually apply to you? Are you another highly predictable number?

Don’t tell me, let me guess… you’re different!

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On Laughter (out of place)…

Why do we laugh?

Because it’s funny… because we’re happy… because we are entertained… we laugh for all these great reasons.

We laugh when we are uncomfortable, hurt, confused, and angry too. We laugh when we don’t know what else to do.

I remember often laughing too hard and my mother reminding me that “smart girls don’t laugh for no reason.” Our cultural etiquette reserves laughter for the hysterically funny or hysterically unsettling experiences. It was not uncommon to hear someone tell a morbid joke and be greeted with fits of laughter: “Oh! How unfortunate to die in a car accident in this country. There are so many more creative ways to go about it!” Ha. Ha. Huh?

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On Habits of Successful People…

When you hear yourself complaining about what appears to be a slow rise to success, I recommend immediately googling “habits of successful people” and really listening to the messages being shared on blogs and vlogs that are available, quite literally, at your fingertips. Are you engaging in these behaviours, or the opposite?

Here are a few that have worked well for me:

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