On the Importance of Forgetting

There are good things about remembering. There are lessons to be learned, common bonds to be forged, legacies to be passed on.

There are also good reasons to forget. I’m not talking about the simple, “Oh, remembrance hurts” kind of reason, though there is never any shame in taking needed breaks. I’m talking about things that make the world better.

We don’t always learn the right lessons from history. We make myths and stories before our understanding matches our need to make sense of surreality. We don’t understand the scope and causes of events until we have had time to look around us, take everything in, and argue out the details. Holding fast to our initial impressions and explanations can make us wrong in terribly important ways. Sometimes the most important thing we can do, the thing that moves us forward as a family, as a nation, as a species, is giving up our flawed memories.

We should not always cling to someone because they share the history we do, particularly not as unreliable memory presents that history to us. If all we remember is that someone else did something we did not or, in most cases, would not, we have learned nothing about ourselves. We may have more in common with the desperate people who sometimes create the most vivid moments in our memory than we do with those who exhort us to remember. As much as we might prefer to deny those similarities, they still affect our lives and our nations. Setting aside that vivid memory may allow us to see the present that much more clearly.

Life changes, or it isn’t life. As much as any of us may want our own legacy remembered, we will all, someday, make way to another generation. We will be forgotten, even if it happens long after our deaths. And that is okay. That is, in fact, exactly what we should want to have happen. We may build knowledge, but if another generation fails to build on it and be recognized in their own right, we’ve contributed less to humanity than if our names were chiseled in stone for eternity. We may create art, but if no one reinterprets it to those who don’t live as we do, the art dies with us, even if it is set in stars in Earth’s night sky. Our legacy is change, or it is nothing. That requires forgetting as well as remembering.

So on this day of remembrance, give yourself permission to forget. You will anyway, a little here and a little there. Give yourself permission to loosen your grip on the world that some say was created that day and create the world we should have. We will all be the better for it.

Further Reading:

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On the Importance of Forgetting
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7 thoughts on “On the Importance of Forgetting

  1. 5

    I can add little but to echo what Jodi said above. That was one of the best written and most though provoking missives I have ever read.

    Bravo Steph.

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