Memories, are they sound? I don’t think so. I have just finished reading a novel written as if in the mind of a young adolescent male living in the early 1940’s. He has great insight into his own behaviour and that of other teenagers. I wondered did I have such insight into my own and others attitudes and behaviours at fifteen? Of course in this instant the insight was that of the adult who had written with hindsight. Personal history is subjective, only each individual has the evidence to support it and that evidence is a respective interpretation.
How we live our life is influenced by our family dynamics which in turn affects thinking, feeling and the way we behave. Always the psychological question of are we shaped by nature or nurture? We have all heard the saying ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man” It was the Jesuit motto, alleged to be attributed to Francis Xavier.
We are, without a doubt a product of our past influences my own being from working class roots and very confused and dysfunctional parenting. I believe insight is subconscious and born from intuition rather than ability and for some the more dysfunctional the background the more instinctive life decisions will be. As a child I had deep enough insight to recognize who I could and couldn’t trust, however my ability to language that came later. There were many hard lessons learned in those early years of school and home and for some of us we are glad it’s over but then, are my memories distorted?
Having left school at fifteen I started work in a factory in the north of England. This taught me an inner strength perhaps not accessible if my background had consisted of more attentive parenting or more focused teaching in my back street, small catholic school? I know my mother had ideas considered above her station in the 1950’s, verbalizing how much my brother and I needed to succeed but, bless her, she was unable to give advice on how to seek out this goal. Perhaps the word succeed was enough to drive the message home and for a while I blundered around in the work market moving from one job to another. However I had taken note that success meant hard work and dedication.
I have unhappy recollections of bullying in school which had a twofold influence upon me, primarily to learn to cope with high levels of angst, secondly, to stand up to tormentors even though consumed by fear. Although an important experience, albeit negative, I was to keep it secret from the adults around me and by doing so recollections may be distorted because of my need for secrecy which is born of shame. I remember that life as a child was chaotic and my place in it miniscule so it was a case of sink or swim. In the early fifties bullying was just a way of life and no one was interested. Now so much can be done where teachers and parents cooperate in confronting the issue. We can identify the needs of both the bully and the victim and I too can now look back at my tormenter realise she was a mixed up kid like me lashing out at the world perhaps in a desperate attempt to take back some of her power. I didn’t have the luxury of insight into my intimidator back then but I did feel helpless and hopeless and tried my best to stay away from school but being a truant meant I lost out on what little education they offered.
As I grew up I decided that other people were not to be trusted and thus I expected them to hurt me and sometimes that in itself meant I would inevitably be hurt. Now I see that over the years I have changed that view in the realisation that folks have their own personal struggles and their own expectations of themselves and others. Each of us has to fight a personal battle in order to do the best we can with what we know.
Our memory plays a big part in the decisions we make, when we reflect upon the past are we seeing it in a true light or are we viewing through a kaleidoscope? Maybe my reflective images aren’t quite the truth of the matter. In any family each member will remember daily incidents as particular to them and different from the others. Three children in the same family will see certain events and relationships another way. My brother and I see our family dynamics differently, he more positively than I.
My mother used to say that I would be Jack of all trades and master of none. I took that as a bad thing but now recognise myself as having ago at anything in order to widen my world and make my life more interesting. What decisions do we make as children in order to get through the trials of life? What rites of passage do we have to make in order to become who we are? Children react and respond to the many and varied issues they are confronted with based upon what they have seen at home, for example when a parent shows interest in the day’s events then a child has the opportunity to spill the beans thus gaining reassurance and confidence. When no interest is shown where does that child go to find answers to their problems? Indeed, how do they decide which way is best? How do they learn to self sooth any worries and fears?
I began talking about memories and as we grow older our memories are part of who we are and what has formed us. Yet as we look back over life we see it is laid out like a jig saw with each piece representing a different part of life and like all jigsaws, pieces get lost so that the image becomes distorted therefore do we embellish by making little cut outs to fit?