Thank You to the Author of the Book on Memory Whose Name I Forgot

The past several weeks have been busy ones at NCPI. In addition to all our projects, programs and new initiatives (more to come on those in future posts), we celebrated two very significant accomplishments. In February,  Sheila Gunderman, NCPI‘s Director of Programs, celebrated 20 years at NCPI. Just a few weeks later, March 1st marked the 25th year of service for NCPI’s Executive Director, Lynda Schwartz. Coincidentally, as we were planning to celebrate both of these milestones, I heard part of an interview with an author talking about the significance of memories. Those few minutes of an interview that I heard in passing didn’t seem significant at first. I didn’t even catch the author’s name or the title of the book and if I did, I, ironically, don’t remember.  But what he said stuck in my head and as we were all reminiscing and sharing stories these last couple of weeks, it became very clear to me that he was absolutely right. There is a lot more to memories than we think.    

In the interview, the author discussed many of the vital functions and the power of memories. To be clear, I’m not talking about the science of memory reconstruction or its reliability. If he did talk about that, it was a part of the interview that I missed. But that is ok- by now, we have all heard about the issues with memory accuracy.  In public safety circles, memories are a mixed bag at best. It doesn’t matter if it is a criminal investigation, an interview at a traffic collision, or even your co-workers’ “war stories” that always seem to evolve beyond recognition, memories can be notoriously problematic when it comes to reliability. Sometimes people’s memories are accurate, sometimes they are not, and sometimes they are both. Yup, both – just ask any police officer or one who talks to people for a living.  They will all tell you that we can remember things exactly the way they didn’t happen and vice-versa. But that wasn’t what the author was talking about. His insights were about the role and power of memories in how we see the world and the decisions we make.

Despite all the issues with reliability, often, memories are the most important thing we have. Why? Because memories are the stories of us, individually and collectively. Good or bad, accurate or accurate-ish, they help shape perspectives, and the way we see the world – not just in retrospect but right now in this very moment. What really hit home for me was when the author who wrote the book about memory, that I can’t remember, talked about how memories shape our processing of decisions.  He said that there really is no way to predict the future with absolute certainty. Anything can happen, at any time, everywhere, and that is a whole lot for us to deal with as human beings.  So, what do we do to help with this uncertainty? How do we prevent just freezing up in the face of the unknown? We remember. We remember what we have learned, our training, our experiences, and how people, places, and events made us feel. We use those memories, in part, to help us navigate the uncertainty of what is going to happen next.  In essence, memories are our connection between experience and the future.

So, thank you to the author of the book on memory whose name I didn’t catch or just forgot. You made me realize amid all the reminiscing surrounding Sheila’s and Lynda’s milestones at NCPI, how fortunate I have been in my career. Not only have I had the privilege of working with and learning from two outstanding colleagues and friends, but I have also been fortunate enough to accumulate a lot of amazing, shared memories. Memories that allow me to look at the future and feel pretty excited about things to come at NCPI.