If I could grant people one skill, it would be the gift of selective memory.
I was talking with a military veteran about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — recurring upsetting memories of terrible experiences that result in depression or inappropriate displays of anger. He was quite philosophical about PTSD. He talked about the scary episodes of his service, and expressed feelings about fallen buddies and inhumane behavior by the enemy.
There was enough material there to be out of whack emotionally for a thousand years. Yet he mostly talked about witnessing compassion, courage, and mercy that also defined war.
He said, "A man's ability to feel both compassion and mercy in times of conflict is what defines us — not the violence." He then lapsed into a description of his platoon taking a town from the enemy and being on guard protecting the villagers. In full combat gear he was posted along the main road to watch for the enemy. He felt a tug from behind and saw a little girl with huge eyes looking up at him. He recognized that she needed to cross the road and couldn't because of a line of tanks.
He took her hand and stopped the tanks so she could pass. She didn't even turn back for a look or a wave. Nonetheless, that moment of normality, of chivalry, of kindness, of direct contact with someone in need, made him feel an inner calm that overwhelmed the danger, sadness, and anger he harbored because of the war.
This is the proper use of selective memory. Many of us tend to use selective memory to dredge up the negative. When we remember that a parent was mean, or gone, or drunk, or disengaged and use those memories to justify foolish behaviors in the present, we rob ourselves of thoughts that could happily fill each day. Our tendency toward negative selective memory blocks out positive thoughts of the past.
When people call my radio program and complain about the negatives of their history I often ask them to close their eyes and go full bore back into the terrible memory. I encourage them to marinate in that memory until they feel the full depth of despair. I then suggest they imagine something that gives them great pleasure and a warm feeling.
After this is completed I tell them, "See? You can go anywhere you want: to the bad memory or to the good one. You have that power. It is your choice."
Once participating in this exercise, it is difficult for people to deny that it is ultimately a choice — and that they can choose to have more peace of mind using the gift of selective memory.
The world is, and always has been, filled with evil people who do ugly things. One doesn't have to go to war to recognize that. But even war is filled with instances of goodness. It depends on which memories you choose to select that write your future.
Dr. Laura is a well-known radio personality and best-selling author whose full name is Laura Schlessinger. She is interviewed regularly on many of the biggest television shows and publications. Read more reports from Dr. Laura — Click Here Now.
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