By Niki Glanz, 10/29/17
Can we change a negative memory? Whatever occurred is history; that we can’t change. But the good news is, Yes, we can change our perspective of what occurred to reflect a new, different state of mind. If our general view concerning a negative event genuinely changes, our memory of it reflects that change.
Neuroscientists tell us that what is stored in the brain is a “core” memory that’s altered, obscured, or elaborated each time we recall it to incorporate our current thinking and life. You and I do this constantly. To take an every-day example, say you initially judged some potato chips as mouth-watering delicious, but then developed a nasty case of indigestion. Your perspective of the original memory becomes much less favorable; in fact, you’d probably begin searching for chips you enjoy both in your mouth and elsewhere. Your memory of the original chips gets recast both by the indigestion and the discovery of new, better chips.
Why bring up this idea of recasting memories? Because it can help us with extremely serious issues, as well. A horrific event recently occurred just miles from where I live in New Hampshire’s “Upper Valley.” A rope was put around the neck of an 8-year old biracial boy; several 14-year old boys were nearby. Since juveniles are protected by confidentiality statutes, we’ll never know precisely what occurred.
Here’s the version supplied by the victim’s family: The boys and the victim’s sister were playing in a neighborhood backyard, when the boys stood on a picnic table. The older boys began taunting the victim with racial slurs. Family versions differ on whether the older boys or the victim, encouraged by them, put a rope from a nearby tire swing around his neck. Someone then pushed him off the table. The young boy swung back and forth three times before being able to loosen the rope; the older boys neither offered nor provided help. The sister alerted their mother, who drove her son to a local hospital from where he was flown to a regional hospital. He then was treated and released for injuries consisting of cuts and bloodied, swollen rope burns.
Again, according to the victim’s family, local police initially treated the incident as kids’ play gone awry. In frustration, the family posted pictures of the boy’s neck on Facebook. A public outcry ensued, and a town rally was organized to support the victim and his family. Two friends and I participated, along with some 100 people that included clergy and local police and government officials. On a lovely Fall day, we encouraged one another to combat racism and hatred through speeches, singing, and chants. How fitting that the rally took place in the town’s central park that honors 75+ soldiers from the town who died in the Civil War.
According to Heidi Beirich, an expert on white supremacy and similar, extremist movements for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the boys who allegedly harmed the young boy might be considered victims, too. Beirich believes social media deserves much of the blame. “Bullying on steroids,” she calls it, as columnist Jim Kenyon of the region’s Valley News reported. Beirich notes that Facebook and Twitter are “filled with racial images and sewer talk [leading to] the normalization of bigotry and hatred. Children aren’t sophisticated enough to make sense of it.”
Currently state investigators dispatched by the governor are assisting the town’s detectives to investigate the incident. The state’s Attorney General’s office is prepared to determine whether a hate crime occurred. Meanwhile, the victim’s family and many others are hoping the young teens will learn from the incident, not merely be punished.
Here’s an idea: recast the memory! To maintain the current scenario is to weigh down town residents, as well as the victim, his family, and the young teens with a heinous event. The original event will never completely lose its sting, of course, but perhaps what now resembles a lynching in many minds could be linked to activities and information that foster better relationships. Professional story tellers and entertainers, counseling sessions, parental educational programs, community-wide endeavors, and special activities designed for middle-school and younger kids might generate new perspectives of the incident.
Other communities have found presenting plays helpful; books portraying actual kids from different backgrounds who overcome social or racial prejudice could be adapted for performances. Both the product (the plays) and the process (diverse kids working together to entertain the community) might strengthen racial and social amity in the town’s backyards and elsewhere.
Memories Matter. We often find the way forward by looking back. Thanks for reading!
Find instances of recasting both positive and negative memories in M2M’s life stories.
Your comments are welcome! Please email them to: [email protected]
2 suggestions for books that could be adapted into presentations:
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Library of America, 1994.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, Dial Books, 2015.
References regarding our ever-evolving memories:
Memory: Fragments of a Modern History, by Alison Winter, University of Chicago Press, 2012.
(see especially pp. 101, 175, 198)
In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind by Eric R. Kandel, W.W. Norton, 2006. (see especially p. 281)
The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, Free Press, 2008. (see especially pp. 79-80)