One of the books that I’ve been dipping into this week is Snoop by Sam Gosling. Recommended to me by Paul, the book says that what we own and the way we arrange our “stuff” can say more about us than even our most intimate conversations. Although I already know (we all do) a lot about snoopology, I’m enjoying the author’s slant on things and the engaging way he writes.
That said, yesterday I came across a sentence that stopped me cold. I read it again…and then again. It summed up much of what we’ve been talking about in my intro classes about memory, consciousness, and personality. Here it is, a quote describing the core of personality that Gosling borrowed from Dan McAdams of Northwestern University: “an inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present, and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose, and meaning.” Although I already knew that, there’s just something about that statement that stopped me in my tracks.
This morning I’m thinking of the reconstructed past and perceived present components. Although you might disagree, it’s been found that pretty much all of our personal or episodic memories are reconstructed. If you doubt it, the then sit down with some family members or friends and start describing an incident from your shared past. You might be surprised at how widely different they are. As the experts contend, our memories are part fact and part fiction. Scary, especially when some of these “self defining memories” help us define who we are as individuals WHEN THEY AREN’T EVEN TRUE. I’m amazed (and sometimes appalled) at the different memories and perceptions shared by own children.
Our perceptions of the present moment are soooooo relevant too. Whether I’m glad, sad, mad, or scared will influence how I perceive the world…and how I react to it. There have been times that I couldn’t even think straight, and at those times it stands to reason that events around me are colored RED. I might be so upset that I interpret a smile as a smirk, a stare as an affront. I’ve been sad and blue, and regardless of the laughter and spirits around me, I projected my own doldrums onto events. How dare the rest of the world to be smiling when my heart is broken!
As a quick example, the other evening, Elizabeth were on the way to eat at Sara J’s, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in the area. We were going to meet my sister and her daughter, and we were in high spirits as we anticipated our evening together. As I drove through the neighborhood, we passed a young woman who looked so forlorn and “down on her luck” that I couldn’t help but utter, “Poor soul.” Elizabeth saw the despair that I did, and we both knew that how that young woman was interpreting her world was far different from our current take on it. (I’ve seen more homeless people in Myrtle Beach than I have in one area in a long, long time. I can pretty much guarantee that their current perceptions of the Strand aren’t those of fun and frolic).
While I can’t change my core personality, I can at least be more aware that many of my memories are not accurate and that my moods can influence how I perceive situations and people. What about you?