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 Mortality…

Last night, my friends and I were chatting about the impacts of putting certain things on hold in order to accomplish others. Yes, we talk about stuff like that on an odd Sunday. At this stage in our lives, we are dealing with the consequences of decisions we made when we were in our early 20s, and recognizing the vast differences between all the various life paths each of us chose to take.

This is only step 1, if we’re lucky. But, not everyone gets to live through steps 2, 3, 4… and so on.

When thinking about specific things I’ve witnessed people delaying for the sake of others (a family for a job, children for vacation, a home for a hyper expensive but fun rental, a career for backpacking, financial stability for the latest trends, etc), I’m not sure whether it is because we tend to believe that life is short, so we go for the quick and immediate pleasures, or if it is because we actually believe that life is very, very long.

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On Pain & Gain…

Nothing worth having in life comes easily. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know that I believe that even good luck, which seems to come out of nowhere, must be intentionally nurtured in order to manifest in our lives. Everything is hard work, perseverance, and faith.

You will be questioned most when you choose the difficult path. When you take the road less travelled, others will witness this and it will cause them to doubt the well-trodden path they favour. Nobody wants you to work harder to succeed, because your success will only prove that they need to work harder too. Nobody wants you to sacrifice and suffer to succeed, because this will show them that they, too, must sacrifice and suffer in order to gain what you have gained. Be prepared for the backlash.

What other people think of you is none of your business. What we focus on is what we succeed at. If you worry too much about what other people have to say about you and your journey, you will only become an expert at fielding criticism. Get over it and move on. Nobody promised that the road to your best self will include many friends. That’s part of the sacrifice. Quality over quantity. The winners stand alone, together!

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On Boundaries…

In my family, when we were kids, we were taught to respect everyone’s personal space. This meant keeping a fair distance unless invited closer, not asking extremely personal questions, and keeping our noses out of other people’s business. Moreover, under no circumstances were we to ever ask anyone for money, or about money.

Then, we grew up, and found people invading our personal spaces, asking us to divulge private information about ourselves and our families (both original and new), and running live commentary on everything we do with our education, careers, mortgages, family decisions, etc.

I am therefore a firm believer in boundaries, while maintaining community. 

I often work with young adults who are trying to choose an academic path. They ask me what they should do. They ask their parents what they should do. They ask teachers and friends what they should do. Sometimes, they resort to online discussion forums and ask strangers what they should do.

My advice always is: take your parents’, teachers’, and counsellor’s advice into account, ignore everyone else, and then make the decision that you feel right about.

This becomes more and more crucial over time. Not all advice is good advice. A select few people should be your guides; choose them wisely, and be sure that they are advising you towards your personal truth. A good coach helps you succeed by capitalizing on your strengths and ambitions. Choose the mentor wisely, then pick and choose the advice that aligns with your personal values, and finally do what you feel right about.

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On Communication…

As a teenager, I had a surprising fascination with the art of communication. At 14 years old, I was already reading books about body language, the hand shake, and active listening. I was especially interested in how meaning varies across cultures. The same gesture or mannerism that would be considered good behaviour in one culture may signify something rude or obnoxious in another. What a big, big world.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that my own body language, handshake, gestures, mannerisms, and listening skills have varied depending on what I was personally going through. I no longer believe that I can follow a formula in a book because you can’t fake any of this… people can always tell. This is why you might meet someone who is sharp and has perfect body language, yet your gut tells you not to trust them. Even if their intentions are good, the forced behaviour comes across as orchestrated and fake.

Instead, there has to be a balance between understanding how behaviours are perceived by a dominant culture, and adapting them in such a way that reflects your inner self authentically. This makes all the difference between “hey, you’re super easy to talk to!” and “hmmm… she’s nice but, I don’t know, there’s something not quite right about her…”

Be yourself.

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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 Wasting Time…

Tick Tock.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing” – Annie Dillard.

It seems to me that we spend much, perhaps even most, of our lives waiting… and wasting time. I wish I could say that I’ve uncovered a groundbreaking plan to resolve this. Truthfully, I believe that the majority of people who claim to have such a plan are full of themselves. I think that all we can really do is try really (really!) hard to make the most of it.

I don’t have the answers for this one.

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