On Forgetting

There were two observations that lead me to write about forgetting. A few years ago, I read an essay by Robert Lynd called ‘On Forgetting’.

The essay was simple and brilliant. Lynd listed out the many things that humans are capable of forgetting, the gender differences in forgetfulness, and the things that are memorable and easily forgotten. I loved the humor in this essay because it remained an undercurrent, without ever eclipsing the main point, which was all about the oddities of forgetting.

The other noteworthy information, was when I read about Hades, God of the Underworld in Greek Mythology. Apart from the infamous river Styx that loops around the Greek underworld, there is another river that goes by the name ‘Lethe’. It’s a less-known, less fantastic river which has drawn very little attention from Greek-myth fans. It is the river of forgetfulness. According to the legend, souls that drank from this river would be blessed with the eternal experience of unmindful-ness. The drinker would enter a world of oblivion, and would experience their next life without any recollections of their past deeds. The name is related to a Greek word ‘Aletheia’ which means truth.

I realized while pondering about both the pieces on ‘forgetting’, that our inevitable trait of forgetting could in fact have been a gift from the Gods. Often perceived to be a sign of intelligence, I feel that in reality it is the opposite : people who are even capable of forgetting, are luckier than their brighter kin. Forgetting, is a mechanism, it is the ultimate healer to every pain. It is our very own home-made recipe which we is passed down genetically from one family to another. Forgetting, is a power and like all other powers what matters is the area of application.

People who have the ability to move forward in life, are those who are gifted with a very dim recollection about particular things. Forgetting shouldn’t be treated as a blanket-trait: it doesn’t shroud every aspect of our memory. We remember certain things specifically and forget others. It’s an art and it’s a selective art so just because someone doesn’t remember what you do, doesn’t mean their memory isn’t as precise. It means they’ve moved on.

We have a great deal of pain in our past: incidents we like to dwell on and torture ourselves with. This kind of self-flagellation is often inbred and the very talent of remembering in vivid detail, becomes the weapon with which we inflict fresh wounds.

The more we re-visit sad incident and the more we analyze and dig, the deeper the hole gets. We desperately try to find any angle believing that the process of rationalizing will resolve the issue while ignoring the fact that not recalling at all would serve us much better. With a greater amount of analysis ,conclusions and speculation, comes added pain to the same memory.  You have to understand no matter how we look at some things, no matter how much we change our attitude, some things remain sad no matter what.

Do not confuse forgetting with evasion, there’s a difference. You’re not trying to escape thinking about something just because it causes discomfiture. It’s like this: the brain is a box. Granted a very complicated box, but a limited space nonetheless. If you try to dodge a certain thought from one corner it comes at you from another. There’s no point avoiding it, so escapism never works.

But, if you start filling the same space with other stuff; other pressing issues, other constructive things that are urgent and important, the sad things have no choice but to squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze until they’re no longer paying any rent, and need to be evicted. This eviction process is simple and so very quiet. You’ll realize that that memory is gone when fine day you try to access it, and realize the pain is no longer there and the cycle won’t be repeated. Yes, the experience stays, and it will guide you from then on because you have to use what you’ve learnt so far but the pain, however, has been booted out.

Forgetting doesn’t have to be a spontaneous, uncontrollable process as it has been portrayed for so long. It can be a technique, something like the cognitive techniques therapists often use:
to sift through a net, find what is significant, lift it out, and let the other soggy stuff dissolve until it’s no longer substantial. In short, Forgetting, isn’t really ‘about forgetting’, it’s about renting the apartment to new tenants.


Published by: Abby

Abha is a final-year law student; She's a trainee family law advocate, a virtual speaker on sexual violence and a volunteer at the local legal aid cell. She enjoys listening to indie rock, reading romantic thrillers and eating Chinese food. She also loves her dog, but suspects her dog isn't too thrilled about that.

Categories Abstract IdeasTags, , 8 Comments

8 thoughts on “On Forgetting”

  1. time heals everythng .. i’d completely overlooked.the importantance of forgetfulness in that process. absolutely bang on observation.
    am ready to rent quite a few rooms to new tenants. thanx dragonette. 🙂

    1. We had a chapter about ‘On Forgetting’ in school. I still remember how engrossed I was while our teacher read it out. Thanks for commenting!

      1. Yes! Actually- though I do remember something about tired dads forgetting the perambulator outside and people forgetting to switch off the living room lights before bedtime. I think it’s the same one. Maybe the one I read was an excerpt and not the whole essay. 🙂

    1. Well, hopefully not everything. 🙂 But yes, could definitely do with a little eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind scrubbing. Forget some bad stuff. 🙂

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