To Forgive or Forget?

There are obvious hazards associated with forgetting, such as angry women (think birthdays and anniversaries) and the shifting baselines syndrome, where we come to accept degraded environments as 'natural'.

Forgetting about the past is particularly dangerous when it comes to making decisions about the future. I think this was summed up well in an article on Alzheimer's titled Probing a Mind for a Cure in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Their frame of reference is disappearing," said Christopher Clark, director of Penn's Memory Discorders Clinic and Bob Moore's doctor after his diagnosis [with Alzheimer's]. "You know who are you are based on your past. You use that to project what's going to happen in the future. As your past disappears, your ability to project into the future essentially disappears, too."

But the ability to forget can also be very useful. It keeps women bearing children, for instance. It also provides squirrels room and board. Once, walking home with my supervisor Daniel Pauly, I asked if he would forgive someone for some transgression at Fisheries Centre.

"I don't forgive, but I forget," he said.

A squirrel ran across our path.

He said, "If squirrels, for instance, remembered where all the acorns they buried for winter were, they would destroy all the future oak trees. Instead, they forget some of the nuts and so their food and their habitat survive. A certain amount of forgetting is healthy."

Perhaps there is an evolutionary advantage to forgetfulness in some circumstances....

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The question is: does the forgetfulness advantage lie with the one doing the forgetting, or with another taking advantage of the lapse?

As for people, I am firmly in the "forgive, but never forget, and only forgive if they're really sorry and trying to do better" camp. But that's only for major transgressions. :)

By Uncephalized (not verified) on 06 Jun 2009 #permalink

To forgive is divine; to forget assinine.


only forgive if they're really sorry and trying to do better

I think it is also good to forgive someone when it helps oneself - even if the other person is not sorry enough.

By anonymous (not verified) on 07 Jun 2009 #permalink

The forgive/forget dichotomy was elucidated at least as early as Chaucer.

Research proposal: do squirrels really forget, or do owls, cats, etc save those fetal oaks by inducing terminal amnesia?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 07 Jun 2009 #permalink

Forgive, don't forget, I say.

Forgiving releases the stress on yourself of holding a grudge. So I will take the unusual approach of claiming that forgiveness is in many ways a selfish thing, because the blessings of forgiveness are primarily experienced by the forgiver.

Now, I am talking about forgiveness not justice. Justice still must be applied. For example, you can forgive a murderer, but still prosecute them. This accomplishes the desired result of justice being applied without vengefulness or malice. I think this is an important priniciple for any system of justice to be applied fairly.

Not forgetting increases your ability to make intelligent decisions about the future, as noted in the post. You will make wiser decisions about when and when not to trust certain people, or in which situations you can depend on them, and which ones you can't. For example, based on the past, you may trust someone to fix your car, but not date your daughter.

Not forgetting also adds to your personal wisdom, if you define wisdom as the ability to intelligently evaluate past experience.

On a related note, it is not surprising that the ability to "see" into the future disappears simultaneously with the ability to "see" into the past. As mankind has extended it's ability to see the past (as through space-based telescopes and such) we have also experienced a simultaneous extension of seeing where we are headed in the future.

For example, we now that conditions similar to ours on the surface of the earth will not last forever, and neither will the planet itself, or even the solar system or galaxy. We know this from discovering the changes that have happened in the past, and from looking out into the universe (which is effectively looking into the past of the our universe).

Several hundred years ago, the idea that the earth environment we have now is not permanent was not considered by most people, simply because they had no reference points of deep past history. Science has changed all that.

There is little (or no) justification for including forgetting in this popular argument.

Yes, there are events in most everyone's life that they would probably like to forget. Those events that we would want to forget are not normally the little things that we actually do forget (just where did I put my car keys?) Things that we actually want to forget are the high level traumatic events.

Sure, forgetting these high level traumatic events is possible. Just read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. But this type of mental disorder is not a conscious, purposeful and volitional endeavor.

Please, enlighten me, just how does one purposefully forget.

I could really, really use such an insightful trick of the mind.

On second thought, maybe there is a reason forgetting is so blessedly difficult.

My name is Kathy and I am 39. I am the full time caregiver to my Dad who has Alzheimer's and lives with me.

In addition to caring for Dad, I have a full time job, 3 dogs, my love of 12 years David and his 14 year old daughter. I get overwhelmed a lot but try to find the humor if I can.

I am writing a blog which shows the lighter side of caring for someone with dementia.

Please pass this link along to anyone you feel would enjoy it.


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