Revisionist History and Rose-Colored Glasses

We all choose to exercise a little revisionist history when looking back on events from our life. We consciously (or subconsciously, in the case of trauma, for instance) narrow down the “facts” we choose to remember in an attempt to continually reframe the experience in our memories in a positive way. The Romans called this kind of rosy retrospection memoria praeteritorum bonorum meaning “the past is always well remembered.”

But why?

The simplest answer is to protect ourselves.

If something went wrong, chances are we’ll implement some kind of revisionist history to spread around the idea of blame, and thus, diminish the amount of guilt we’re supposed to feel. And because guilt is an internalized emotion caused by an outside stimulus, it’s natural we try to avoid guilt as much as possible, especially when it comes paired with failure or public perception. If given enough time and opportunity, it seems we can negotiate away any level of guilt. The trimming of less-than-favorable details from our memory bank is one way for our brain to streamline the learning and storage processes.

So is a revisionist history approach to life a bad thing?

I’d argue no, but only when you’re revising your own personal history. The inner dialogue that allows us to move forward with our lives is that revisionist part of our brain at work. Nobody needs to be up to date on the running tally of your life’s wins and losses, and frankly, neither do you.

Attempting to revise a collective history, however, is very different, and I’d say a very bad thing. There was a time when “history was written by the victors,” predominantly in the form of textbooks and approved literature. Unfortunately, there are still a number of textbooks (in 2018) promoting incomplete or inaccurate histories being taught in schools worldwide. It should also come as no surprise that the Trump administration has gained a reputation for promoting their own brand of revisionist history (“alternative facts”) or intentionally clouding the air of truth to create distrust of the public record. We all know this is irresponsible and dangerous.

Rose-colored glasses were given to the injured soldiers of the American Civil War coping with depression, hoping the lighter tint would help brighten their disposition. It didn’t block out the atrocities they’d already experienced, but rather, gave the wearer an advantage to pre-paint their world with a layer of optimism.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Go into 2018 rocking those rose-colored glasses. They look good on you.


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