Dimming Memories or Lies?

When I was thirteen my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school. She had to work and felt I would be safer and also get the benefit of an excellent education. However, it was analogous to a Marine boot camp! We had a strict regimen: up a five thirty, mass at six o:clock, back to our rooms to make beds, breakfast, study hall, than classes till three. After our classes, free time till 4, outdoor activity till five, dinner at 5: 30, study hall and then lights out at 8. The rules and regulations were to be followed without excuses or whining. If you tried to outwit the good sisters, you were “in for it”,

There was no corporal punishment. You were told the error of your ways, and either had to go to detention or say hundreds of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Mary’s” in order to gain absolution. You learned to not try to weasel your way out of things very early on.

My boarding school days flashed before my eyes when I read of the latest, greatest, scandal which centered around Brian Williams the CBS nightly news anchor. It seems he reported he falsely recounted a story that he was in a helicopter that was hit by ground fire in 2003. One of the higher-ups said he “misrepresented events”. Another word used was that he possibly ” misremembered”. Is it possible for our memories to dim or can we embellish them over the years? Absolutely! However we are now in the era of “doublespeak” where we create words that make the bad seem good, make lies sound honest, and negative events seem positive. Basic to doublespeak according to Kathy Kellerman is incongruity -“the incongruity between what is said, or left unsaid, and what really is.”

The first word I heard that fit the above criteria was “downsizing”. Corporate cultures decided that it would ease the pain of just being fired. I’m sure millions of people on unemployment felt soothed when they explained they were downsized. Doublespeak grew over the years. Some of it is quite comical. I would be considered ” vertically challenged” and ” horizontally impaired” instead of simply short and pudgy. A garbage man is now a ” sanitation engineer”. A psycho is a  “pathologically high-spirited” individual, “pre-owned” instead of used or possibly beat up, ” person of interest” instead of suspect in a crime, “ill-advised” instead of a very bad idea. One if my favorites “negative patient care outcome” which means the patient died. Oh, there are many more and I’m sure many more to come.

When is a lie, a lie, or how do we discern fantasy from reality? How do we create a moral compass for future generations if we continually “misremember” the direction we’re going in?

Buffer Our Fears! Extrapolate from your day to day life what you feel good about and think about it often.

The last several years have seen a proliferation of books on how to think positive, and be happy so that you can become successful and fulfilled. The only problem is that more often than not our brains prefer to choose negative thoughts. John Milton said that “The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” He certainly knew what he was talking about. On any given day we average about 60,000 thoughts. Many of them are focused on what’s wrong, or what could go wrong. This made a lot of sense thousands of years ago when there was a huge possibility that your village could be obliterated by your enemies or that you might be attacked by a behemoth while taking a morning walk. Unfortunately the brain has taken it’s time catching up with modern-day society. We are still struggling to rid ourselves of a lot of our fears, which often come from negative thoughts, even though we are living in modern times. Researchers have proven that our brain patterns are defined in part by how we think. Optimists take credit for their successes and see bad events as flukes. Pessimists, on the other hand, blame themselves for anything that happens and often discount success. Dr. Martin Seligman has dubbed the dialogue of pessimism and optimism as explanatory style. He points to the fact that pessimists use the three P’s to explain themselves: personalization (“It always happens to me!”), pervasiveness (“it happens to me every day in every way!”), and permanence (“It will never end!)”. This practically guarantees a life that contains a feeling of hopelessness and suffering. It also contributes to a sense of inner worthlessness and a lack of self-control. The more we think we are a certain way, the more we become that way. Learning to change our inner dialogue can be very difficult for those whose biology predisposes them to depression and or anxiety. So learning to parrot positive statements may prove to be an act of futility for them. They may need a combination of medications and a cognitive behavioral therapist. For those of us who have simply become habituated to thinking that the universe is not a friendly place, I suggest spending some time everyday thinking about what you feel good about. There is always something we can extrapolate from our day-to-day that can help to buffer our fears.  If you can engage in this practice you will find yourself more able to handle difficult situations and there’s a good possibility you may even live longer.