‘THE EGO NARROWS WHAT WE REMEMBER.’ ~Edward Norton, on Smartless podcast.
These words struck me, as I’d never quite thought about it in this way, but I do think it’s very true.
Maybe over new year’s and this first part of January we’ve been thinking back to 2022, or further back – perhaps reflecting on memories of years past. As we share them with others and discuss a shared past experience perhaps we don’t remember all the details, or what we remember differs from the other person’s memory.
Throughout the year I often hear people comment disparagingly about their memory when they’ve forgotten the details around something – big or small – that happened in their life. Indeed I’ve done the same, myself.
But I think the first line of this post is a valuable message to consider before getting carried away – concerned and fearful about our memory failing us on a global scale.
The ego (as I understand it) is that part of us that perceives and interprets our interactions with the outside world, and it seeks to keep us safe – so it’s typically looking for danger.
Having evolved from a need to be alert to physical danger in times and places where predators were far more a danger to humans as we went about our daily lives, the ego now also interprets danger as being something that threatens any aspect of our lives, from…
~ our physical safety and security, to
~ our reputation or how others might see and judge us, to
~ our standing in a relationship or community or group, to
~ our job security, and so on…
…sparking worry and attempts to problem-solve in order to keep us safe, preventing the presumed ill-effects or worst-case-scenario of a hazard that may impact any of the above (and myriad other aspects of our lives).
I’m no neuroscientist, but I know from my own experience that many times over in my life when nervousness, fear, or perhaps some semblance of social anxiety has had my ego on high alert – my attention has been so focused on certain aspects of a situation or interaction, such as…
~ what I just said and whether it was the ‘right’ thing to say,
~ how what I said or did was interpreted, or
~ my perceptions of others’ body language or tone of voice, or
~ whether I’m dressed appropriately, or
~ simply not being ‘present’ at all – my mind a million miles away thinking about something else entirely…
… so much so that I completely miss observing and taking in other things about the experience, situation, or interaction in which I’ve been involved.
Then later, as I think back on it I might ruminate on those same aspects, and continue to strengthen those neuropathways of memories of the parts of the experience on which I was so focused. They continue to be heightened and highlighted as key parts of the experience – ‘burned’ into my memory, if you will.
This happens at the expense of other aspects of the experience, and – while I might have observed or even participated in them – those memory neuropathways are diminished, overshadowed by my concerns, or fears, or the thoughts that took me away entirely.
All in all, I share the above to support the idea that what we remember is, indeed, narrowed and shaped by our ego – the focus of our attention, our concerns, our fears, our level of distraction, and so on – in any given moment.
Inviting each of us to…
~ be open to others’ remembrances of experiences, and curious as to how they might help us to flesh out what might not have stuck in our memory so strongly, AND, perhaps most importantly…
~ be patient with – and kind to – ourselves as our memory of certain experiences might be shaped a little differently than others. ❤
(Photo by NEOSiAM 2021, pexels(dot)com)