TED Talk Tuesday: Experience vs. Memory

Our memories are funny things aren’t they? What we experience and what we remember are often very different. I realized this one day a few years ago when the movie Top Gun was showing on one of the cable channels. Now, you have to understand that when I was a kid, Top Gun was the coolest movie ever. Every boy I knew wanted to fly fighter jets and have cool call-signs like “Maverick”. Even as an adult, my memory of that movie was that it was EPIC.

Then, on that fateful day, I watched Top Gun on cable and, having had a couple of decades to embellish the awesomeness of the movie in my memory, I was sorely disappointed at what I saw. Everything from the hairstyles to the clothing choices to the dialog to the acting reminded me that my standards for movies have changed a lot since I was a kid. That awesome movie was suddenly lame. My memory had betrayed me.

Daniel Kahneman reminds us of this disconnect between our experiences and our memories and just how dominant our memories can be. His challenge to experience life, rather than just remember it, is one that I don’t exactly know how to apply. What I do know is that I don’t want embellish or diminish my experiences, nor do I want to dumb down my memory to just the highlights, lowlights or the last few minutes of a particular experience.

I supposed some memories are better left untouched. The experience vs memory gap is probably one of the primary reasons the earth remains populated today. If mothers had to truly experience childbirth every time they thought about their child (rather than just having a memory of it) there would probably be a lot more one-child families. Instead, mothers look at their children and think of all wonderful things. Then, with that perspective, they view the pain of childbirth as “worth it”.

There’s a lot to think about when listening to this talk, but one thing that has really stuck with me is the power of the “final moment”. Getting things right 99% doesn’t really matter if we botch the ending. Conversely, getting it right 70% of the time may do the trick if we finish well. As a pastor, a father, a husband and a future church-planter, this talk has me thinking a lot more about all those little “final moments” in life and how one word or action in that critical time can forever color someone’s view of me, my family, my church and even my God.

My challenge to myself, then, is this: Start well, finish better. (Evidently, the stuff in the middle is only mildly important anyway!)