To remember or to forget: that is the question. When it comes to nation building, policymakers have traditionally sought to both enshrine the past as well as bury it.
To forget is to erase–from popular memory–the aspects of the past which either contradict or undermine the core identity of a nation. As nations focus on creating futures that do not yet exist, it seems that zealously editing the past is the only way forward.
We are all children of history. We carry within us the hopes for a future we have yet to create as we heal from the wounds of the past. This goes beyond our individual sorrow and merges with the collective sorrow of those who have suffered the same pains that we have.
Before the histories of Mesopotamia were unearthed, we lived in ignorance of the primordial mythology that shaped the narrative of human history. But as these scribal stories came to light, we understood our past–and thus were finally free to create a new and better future.
Forgetting is necessary to overcome divisive and differing memories and experiences. To a psychologist, forgotten or false memories are a sign of unhealed trauma. The human brain can sometimes hide or conceal stressful, traumatic or fear-related memories. It is a coping mechanism. It allows us to move on.
While this functions as a protective defence mechanism in the short run; in the long term, however, repressed and hidden memories could potentially unearth serious mental health concerns such as: anxiety, depression, PTSD and other dissociative disorders.
Chemical receptors in the brain are in charge of emotional tides, excitement and calm. In ‘normal’ circumstances, the system is balanced. But certain receptors–called extra-synaptic GABA receptors–are independent agents. They work outside the system to adjust brain waves and mental states according to the levels of internal chemicals.
Individual trauma may well be a psychologist’s domain, but collective trauma belongs to everyone who was there at the scene when it occurred. It is thus no longer the realm of individual experience, but rather, concerns all the various players who played both big and small roles in creating the trauma that is longing to be addressed and healed.
For a nation builder, these unreconciled episodes that fester within the psyche of a people could end up setting the stage for future battles and retaliations. While the reasons to put aside unresolvable painful episodes are many; the undercurrents which pull at the psychic tide of a population eventually generate tensions which will sooner or later come to the surface, especially if they have not yet been resolved and reconciled.
When creating a future is more important than settling a past, forgetting has always been the answer. But when aspects of the past reemerge from their burial grounds, the past may well seek a hearing and a resolution.
It is then the past that returns with a vengeance, not in memorial to the battle wounds–but as a reminder of the resulting scars that have yet to be avenged, forgiven or given a fair trial.
The problem of selective remembering can only hold up if past atrocities do not recur. If old wounds and traumas are not solved or resolved by the newly created future; it is foreseeable that the wound that was never healed will return–and this time, it will be twice as sore.