Memory and Community

A colourful mind
Creative Commons License photo credit: Scuola di Atene

I’ve been reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell lately. So far, it’s a great book. I just thought I’d share one of the many ideas that I’ve been thinking about lately.

Gladwell says that much of what we remember is actually not stored in our brain, but outside our brains. He gives the example of phone numbers – most people don’t remember the actual number, but instead they remember that they can find the number in a phonebook/address book or actually in their phone memory. In the same way, a busy mom doesn’t remember how to fix the computer, but she remembers that she can go to her teenage son to fix it. He calls this kind of memory “joint memory” and argues that this is another reason divorce is so difficult. When one loses a spouse, one loses part of his/her joint memory and this feels like losing a part of yourself.

This “joint memory” idea was proven by a study which asked couples to remember 64 statements 5 minutes after looking at them. The couples who knew each other remembered many more of the statements than those who didn’t know each other. Those who knew each other well were able to mentally assign specific statements to each other based upon their interests/expertise’s. They only had to actually remember half as many statements because they knew their partner would remember the other part.

OK – what does this have to do with anything? Well, first of all I just thought it was interesting. This means that a larger family has a larger “joint memory.” How has the trend toward smaller families impacted this memory over time? How has it impacted the church? I mean, the church is supposed to be a family right? Do we have a collective joint memory?

The first 5 books ofthe Bible are evidence of this idea. These stories were passed down from generation to generation. They created an identity for the Jewish people. Everything they thought or did was impacted on some level by this identity – this “joint memory.” They learned the Scriptures together and understood their whole world as a community. As a community, they interpreted the Scriptures – and for that matter, they interpreted life as a community. Over the centuries, as the church has become more and more individualistic, what have we lost? What “joint memories” are we losing? Can we regain them? How can we build and grow true community like this again? How can we live together again and build our “joint memories” in such a way that our whole community identity is found in Christ?

Anyway, these are just some thoughts.

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