What do you remember about September 11, 2001? Where were you? Who were you with? What were you doing? You probably have vivid recollections of this national tragedy. But what do you remember about September 11, 2002? Probably not as clear a recollection, right? That's because human's memory is a lot squishier than we might want to believe.
Science is exploring memory and the findings are causing many (especially those in criminal justice) to become cautious in overvaluing a person's recollection of events. The more we ruminate on a past event, the more likely it is that we will reshape the accuracy of what happened.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
We remember 9/11 with such vividness (although perhaps not as much pure accuracy) because a mental spotlight shines on it. A tragedy or extremely joyful event can give us a more accurate memory of the event because of our emotional attachment to the event. September 11, 2002 was certainly a day of mourning but it didn't possess the same emotional power as did 9/11 (except, of course, for the families of the deceased).
Psychologist Edward Thorndike introduced the "halo effect" explaining how we deceive ourselves about our past putting a "halo" on events even if we'd not been as angelic in the past as we think. Psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann identified what he called the "peak end rule" effect. Humans "remember" something when the end provides a peak emotional experience.
This memory information is important for interim ministry work and should be headed by congregations. Members may be lured into remembering the golden days of yore with a longing to return to those day, but memory research cautions us against putting too much stock in how golden those days actually were. Moreover, moving into the future will be more difficult if that past is the template for the future. Soren Kiekegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Amen.