The more life histories I help my clients write, the more I realize that stories are what’s important not necessarily the facts. This might sound funny but its true. It’s the stories that shape an individual’s life and life lessons. Names and dates, while certainly important, do not determine an individual’s character or the roles that that person plays throughout their lives.
Last week (June 26, 2017) I read an article in the Wall Street Journal written by Sue Shellenbarger, “The Family Memory You Think You Have.” Ms. Shellenbarger writes that “the most vivid family memory isn’t totally accurate.” Does this lack of accuracy make the family story any less valid? Certainly not — in fact I believe that it is the differences in family memories that make a life history more interesting. I have often interviewed married couples (although never together) asking them about events that they were both at. For example, when asked about their wedding day, I always get two different stories! They remember such different things from the same event.
Ms. Shellenbarger writes that:
Recalling a memory isn’t like replying a mental video. More often memories are reconstructions of facts, inferences and imagined details that people patch together after the fact, helping them build a sense of identity.
As a life history is remembered and written the only real facts are those telling of dates and the names of individuals who crossed the path of the individual. Friends, teachers, and relatives all played an important part in our own history but more important to your story is your relationship with those people.
Memories of your elementary school years touches on memorable teachers and childhood friends. Your story is how these individuals were memorable to you. The same is true for high school and college friends and professors that crossed your path. It is not important that you remember specific events, like grades, or teachers but instead what you remember, and not whether those memories are accurate.