I recently had a leisurely lunch with a longtime friend, a rare luxury. During the course of the conversation we discovered that our memories of a project we collaborated on over a dozen years ago are as different as night and day. Each of us gives the other credit for instigating the undertaking.
“What a great story,” I replied when I heard the other side. “That’s not how I remember it, but it sounds good.”
“What do you mean? How do you remember it?” My version was like a mirror image.
“No way!” My friend plans to do a journal check to see “how it really happened.”
“I’m eager to hear what your journal says, but if it's different from my account, I’ll remind you that initial perception shapes memory, and we may have perceived it differently to start with. What difference does it make? We’re happy with the outcome, so probably we're both right, or the 'truth' is a combination of our memories.”
I went on to suggest that we each write the story of how this project began so we could post the two stories side-by-side. I doubt that will ever happen, but we had a good laugh, and parted in high spirits.
This isn’t the first time I’ve discovered that friends remember things very differently from the way I remember them. My husband and I have relatively little overlap in our long-term memories in the first place, so there is little conflict between them. We joke that our memories are so different that together we make a whole brain. My sister and I came to the conclusion ages ago that although our parents shared the same name, and we apparently lived at the same address concurrently, we grew up in very different families.
It’s been months since I wrote about the variability of memory. Check The Essence of Truth and A Million Little Pieces for further thoughts on this timely topic. You may also find this information about memory and false memories on Live Science quite fascinating.
Have you had amusing or startling experiences where your memory varied dramatically from someone else’s? How did you handle this? That’s probably worth a story in itself.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal