Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Need to be Right

Memory is a funny thing. I am in the process of trying to remember many events from my childhood and in the process of doing so, have a lack of certainty that my memory is correct.

I have a memory of a particular place in my old home town which I associated with my step-father. In 1990 a friend of mine was working as a sales rep and was visiting a client in this town. She invited me to come along for the ride and I took my camera. After her meeting we went on a little sight-seeing trip - both of the houses I lived in, the river walk, the secondary school opposite where we lived, the sweet shop I used to visit for my weekly dose of ten-penny mix, the church, the little piece of rough ground opposite our house where I used to play - which used to be a hangout for punks when it got dark and on one occasion where my friend Simon next door was caught short and did a poo in the bushes. And the taxi rank I remember visiting more than once with my Mum, long before she left my Dad, to meet a man who I have always been certain was my step-father.

My sister makes the same association with the taxi rank, but after speaking to her, her description of the office does not match with the same location, which is making me question the associations I have made and the strength of my memory. Why else did I take a picture of this building? If I am wrong about this, what else did I imagine? There are gaps that I very much want to fill. Like most people - for reasons of sanity - I have a need to be right.

My memory has been called in to question on a number of occasions. It is possible to experience exactly the same event with someone and have completely different recollections.

Fourteen years ago I was travelling in India with my boyfriend at the time. We wanted to get to the Bangkok Airline office in Mumbai and took a cab. The driver took us in a loop to the other end of the street from which we started - a long way from where we needed to be - and then pointed out the price on his sheet. I spotted that the price he was pointing to was the Night Rate, pointed this out to my boyfriend, who then raised this with the taxi driver.

When we returned home we were relaying our travel stories with friends and much to my surprise, my boyfriend took the credit for spotting that we were being charged the Night Rate. He insisted that it was him, I insisted that it was me. We agreed to disagree. It was as clear as day in his head as it was in mine.

Another occasion was the story told by my step-mum of my little brother's first day at big school at the age of seven. He had been very nervous when she dropped him off and she spent the entire day worrying on his behalf and wondering whether he was okay. When she went to pick him up and arrived at the meeting point, there was no sign of my little brother. So she waited. And then she spotted him walking down the corridor with a friend at which point he walked straight past her. Thinking that perhaps he hadn't seen her, she waited for him to return. Again, he walked straight past and this time it was evident that he knew that she was there and was ignoring her. Feeling rather frustrated at being blanked twice after an entire day of fretting, she grabbed him on his third pass and hustled him in to the car.
"When we get home, I want you to go straight to your room, and I want you to think about what you have done. I want you to give me an explanation as to exactly what I have done to deserve this kind of treatment"
My little brother went to his room for ten minutes, then appeared in the kitchen with a piece of paper which read "How far back do you want me to go?"

This is probably one of the most hysterical stories I have ever heard, picturing the complete shock on my step-mum's face when she read what her son had written. We howled with laughter at the dinner table when the story was told and I have recounted the tale on several occasions to friends.

Six months ago we were sitting round the dinner table again, reminiscing.
"The funniest story I ever heard," I said "was the one where you picked T up from his first day at school and he wrote that note"
Blank faces.
"You know - the time when he blanked you and you sent him to his room and he came down with that note saying 'how far back do you want me to go?'
"What are you talking about?" my step-mum asked.
None of them had any recollection of this event at all. They looked at me as though I was barking mad. But I remember her telling the story. I didn't make this up...

The need to be right is probably the central cause for war. We all want to be right. We all have a need for our views to count, for our opinions and experiences to matter. Very few people are happy with other people taking the credit for something impressive that we know we have done. If we are not able to be right then there is a fear that perhaps we don't count - that in some respect our existence is being overlooked.

What we need to understand is that there is a system in the Universe. Everything happens for a reason - everything is part of a bigger picture. This leads back to my favourite line in the Desiderata - "Even though it may not be clear to you now, no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should" Often we do not see the reason for things no matter how hard we try to understand. Sometimes it is just not ours to see - it is not in our hands.

Luckily for me, there are other people who will be able to fill in the gaps on the taxi rank. And I definitely remember Simon having a poo in the woods.


  1. This is a very thought provoking post. I often times disagree with others' recollections of events. We all have our perspectives and our faulty memories. I guess we shouldn't be surprised when lines get crossed and facts muddled. I'm sure the cab-driver has his version of the story too.

    And that line in the little boy's note? Classic.

  2. Reminds me of the saying, would you rather be right or happy?
    It does rankle a lot when my version of reality is disputed by other people who are so adamant about me agreeing with them, which is of course a mirror of me wanting them to agree with me.
    It's hard to choose happy, but since I believe in feeling good as a priority, I make the hard choice and then guess what, I'm happy!

    But I'm sure he pooed in the woods!

  3. I'm sure you posted this only the other week. Didn't you?

  4. IB: The theory goes that if one person let's go of their need to be right in an argument, the other then backs down and reconsiders.

    OMG: What an excellent saying and very true - I'll remember that one! And yes! He really did poo in the woods! I wonder whether he would deny it?

    Alan: I think you could be right... :o)

  5. Memories are such interesting things.
    It's our way of connecting, good or bad, with the past.

  6. Letting go can be so hard...But, even if you are barking mad, some of us still love you and find you quite entertaining! Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. I absolutely believe in the 'bigger picture', and that sometimes you simply can't find an answer for things.

    Thank you so much for visiting my blog recently and for your wise words when I was feeling so very low. I'm so sorry to hear of your sister's loss too. It's an ironic thing that whilst you don't want anyone else to have to have gone through the same tragedies, it does help to know that others have survived it. Anyway, thank you - it meant a lot to me x