“I have always been intrigued by people who have a great capacity to trust God … If my strength depends on my capacity to trust God, then I am not very strong!” Herbert O’Driscoll
I feel sorry for Brian Williams. Human memory is such a fragile thing, and our ability to look into the mind of another human being is so limited. I cannot know for certain what Williams remembers or misremembers or has fabricated, but knowing my own short-comings in that regard, I cannot bring myself to throw any stones.
I never read the Spider Man comics, but I remember in the movie (the one with Toby Maguire) Peter Parker’s uncle reminded his nephew that “With great power comes great responsibility” – and so there is an expectation that people in the news business would exercise greater responsibility in doing their fact-checking to ensure their stories are both reliably accurate and trustworthy. That is a reasonable expectation.
As human beings, I know we like to think our memories are pretty good, at least with regards to “important” matters. It may not matter what we had for breakfast this morning or yesterday, but surely we would remember an event like being “under fire” or what happened when we had that “big fight” – wouldn’t we?
But I’m not so sure. Our egos are pretty fragile, and when you add to that the point that “each of us is the hero in our own story” (I wish I could remember who said that – it isn’t original with me), then it makes sense that one might adjust his or her memory of events in a way that does himself the least harm – or shows herself in the best light.
The interesting thing is that much of this is done unconsciously or subconsciously. We often accuse people of lying, when in reality, they are not remembering the event, but their recollection of the event – which involves chemical and electrical processes within the brain itself.
Now, people DO lie. Of course they do. The child who insists they did not take the cookie as crumbs fall from their face is lying. The man who insists he did not rob the bank as the trail of bills falling from the garbage bag to the tree behind which he is hiding is lying. People do intentionally strive to deceive others for a variety of reasons, but I’m not talking here about our capacity to lie.
Rather, I am talking about the way we communicate with one another. We do not communicate through words, but through stories. As a wordsmith, I am particular about the words I use, but they are my words and how they help or hinder the reader are my responsibility. The words you use also help and/or hinder my ability to hear and understand the story you are telling me.
For instance, when a house is burglarized and a person says they were robbed, the hairs on the back of my head stand up and I am liable to throw a conniption because (as a former police office) I know there is a technical difference between being robbed and being burgled. Robbery involves taking something from a person by force or threat of force, whereas burglary is the breaking and entering of a building to steal something. One is a crime of violence against a person, the other a crime against property.
The point is, humans are story-tellers. That’s how we communicate. If our story is unclear, people may ask questions for clarification. As we clarify our stories, they change. We find different words, we rearrange the order in which we tell the tale, or we may replace pronouns with nouns and change the emphasis from one part of the story to another. We do some of these things to make it clearer, but we also do them in response to our audience.
To a humorist, laughter matters – that’s our chocolate. Reporters are supposed to be objective, however, and therein lies the rub. News outlets today are often shooting for market-share, and so stories are more often shaped and arranged to amaze and amuse than to report “just the facts”.
Sadly, that’s the world we live in; fortunately, there will always be those among us who can and will correct us, and that’s a truth we all share in this, our valley.