It is a flaw of the human condition that we feel we must win arguments at any cost. Often, these “wins” come at the cost of our relationship to those closest to us: our wife, our children, our parents and siblings. How many of us have a dumb, long-term disagreement that’s morphed into an even dumber feud and, now, the worst, a Grudge, with a loved one and you haven’t spoken to them in years because you forgot who was supposed to apologize to whom and when? I wish I could say grudges are a simple problem that more education could solve, but they are not. Grudges are best dissolved when disagreements don’t even make it to the grudge state in the first place. It takes two people to be in a relationship but it only takes one person to end it, whether long-term or ad hoc. Ironically, after years have past since we’ve spoken to one another, neither one of us can accurately describe why it is the grudge exists. We get too worked up too easily. These difficult emotions cause brain fog, and we often don’t even realize it.
“Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience.”
As Gordon Livingston, M.D., reminds us, “Memory is not an accurate transcription of past experience.” We’re experts at misremembering. We think we know the facts of what happened when we actually do not. You can see the potential pitfalls this misremembering can have upon our relationships, especially with those closest to us. When asked about their childhoods, grown children of the same parents often have completely different memories of what happened and when during their formative years. And, thus, the emotions attached to those memories are also completely different. These strangely divergent recollections do not bring them closer together; typically, it has the opposite effect. Having our own precious childhood memories questioned by the very same people we grew up with shakes us to the core. How can our memories be so divergent? We were there at the same place, at the same time with them. Worse, if I was wrong about this memory, what else might I be wrong about?
What if everything you thought was right about your domain was one day proven to be actually wrong?
Having a strongly-held emotion or belief shattered can be, well, earth-shattering to us. Many of us cannot take this and so we default back to confirmation bias, seeking out and acknowledging facts that only support our existing belief or stance. Note how much easier this is emotionally than doing the difficult work of leaving your ego checked at the door, opening up your mind, taking a wide yet keen look at the existing facts as they are (not as you are), and then making up your own mind based upon the empirical data. This is simply too much work for many of us. Besides, we’ve already got this figured out, so why bother? Particularly if we’re an established expert? Shouldn’t I already know? Naturally, this plays well into the Expert Problem. If you’ve spent 20 years studying and practicing a subject, most would agree that you’re an expert within that domain. What would you do if someone random came along and presented you with empirical evidence that most everything you’ve thought was right about your domain was actually wrong?