Not remembering…

When you’re more mature, you do start telling the truth, in odd situations. “I’m sorry, I’ve broken a glass here. Is that expensive? I’ll pay for it. I’m sorry.” And you do that so that people in the room might go, “What a strong personality that person has. I like to have sex with people with strong personalities.”

Eddie Izzard, Dressed to Kill.

I’ve had to spend a lot of time (outside of work) in the last few months dealing with a person who, to put it politely, quite often says things that are ¬†inconsistent with many other things that they have previously said. This has got me thinking a lot about lying.

If you say to someone “You did say that you saw my brother going into a bookshop in Piccadilly?” and their reaction is to have no memory at all of the conversation then their reaction is an interesting one. If they say “I don’t remember saying that, can you remind me where we where when I said it?”, “I did? When?”, or “are you sure? that doesn’t sound like me” or some other attempt to establish some facts then that shows a fairly natural human process. If you are assured by someone that you said or did a particular thing, and you have no memory of it, then you probably would like to get to the bottom of why there is a big gap in your memory. You would ask questions, establish what was going on. When confronted in the manner I often find myself tracking back though old emails and text messages to establish exactly what was going on at the time…

Years ago, I woke up in an ambulance after a car accident with no memory of where in the world I was or anything that happened in the previous month. After a couple of days most of the details returned, but to this day I have no memory of the 15 minutes before the accident, or the hour after it. It’s a horrifying thing, and something that you really *really* try hard to piece together.

If, on the other hand, they say “I don’t remember” and move on to other things, then I find that very surprising. I can’t think of that many motivations. I find it odd that someone could complete forget a conversation after a couple of weeks and then be utterly relaxed about having forgotten it. It could be that the other person simply thinks you made the whole thing up. They could have supreme confidence in their memory and, in effect, be saying ‘I don’t remember the thing you are talking about, and I have an excellent memory, so clearly you are wrong.’

On the other hand, they might be the one who makes things up. If you make things up on a regular basis, and you are aware that you make things up, then it’s probably a very sound strategy to disown completely any remarks made more than a few days ago.

Have I missed out any explanations? (I’m very willing to change my mind) Or would it be a sensible policy, when someone is dismissive about the existence of past comments, to take their current ones with a grain of salt?


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