The recent problems facing NBC News anchor Brian Williams should cause all of us to focus on a couple of key things: Truth is essential and time can sometimes make recall a bit fuzzy, if we allow it.
In Williams’ case there were the events that became, in his words, “conflated” over time. Most everyone now knows there were other instances of his story being told and retold, growing in stupendous claims in made-for-TV heroics. Once there was a crack in the armor, journalists everywhere pounced, looking for more inaccurate reporting or flat-out whoppers.
But let’s not be tempted to think that’s only something that is his problem. Our minds can play tricks on us, especially as time marches on. Our stories are just as important.
Sometimes a group of people involved in a singular event can “remember” an occurrence in different ways. Individuals may find aspects of a story that connect personally in ways others don’t see.
In Williams’ case, it became hard to refute what those in the other military helicopters experienced. Once the inconsistencies became public, it didn’t take long to see where the story was indeed, inflated and false.
I find it mind-boggling that someone of the NBC anchor’s intelligence felt it necessary to magnify a story that was already heroic. Just the fact that he was there at the outset of the 2003 Iraq war was brave enough. He didn’t need to add an imaginary RPG hit to “his” helicopter.
It’s also very difficult to believe that, even with the fact that memory can often lose sharpness over a lifetime, someone could forget every aspect of such extraordinary moments.
On one of my Middle East trips, 2006 in Afghanistan, I was also flying in Chinook helicopters, including a stop in Kandahar and time in dangerous Helmand Province. But we were never hit by any “incoming.” Believe me, that is something I would never confuse, forget or “mis-remember.”
Were we in danger? Sure, with plenty of “what if” aspects. But just being there was enough to be a good story, going beyond headlines.
When the Williams case unfolded, I challenged myself to remember what I experienced, and to go back to a journal I kept during the days there. I found my memories were clear and intact, and came back fresh.
Unusual events in our lives can often take on a sense of “photographic memory.” Because of the unique nature of it all, we can also feel like we are re-experiencing the moments when mulling them over.
As I think back it’s easy to recall faces, sounds, even smells from that trip. Still, every event is colored by our own uniquely personal experiences.
As I replay my Afghanistan adventure in my head, I also remember how the fear of where we were and what we were doing sharpened my faith… in God, and in the valiant men and women in uniform
protecting us as we traveled.
Memory can sharpen the soul, especially when cultivated. Keeping notes along the way helps, and we all have brain cells dedicated to often-vivid recall of the good and the bad events in our lives. The Brian Williams story helped me to “think about thinking” more often, to find opportunities to remember the best times, and to learn from the challenges in life.
As a little mental exercise, try this: How far back can you remember? How much detail? How did that time or event shape you, your operating reality, your preparation for the future? And how many of the negative times need to be seen for what they are, dealt with, then moving on; freed from the things that bog you down in the past?
I can wander back to when I was 3- or 4-years-old and with my grandparents. When thinking of them I allow myself a little trip back to their houses, thinking of the layout, seeing their sweet faces again. Recalling my roots.
Memories are made of this, part of God’s way of re-energizing life, helping us find the joy in today. And they remind us that truth will always trump a tall tale. It’s miraculous enough on its own.
— by Mark Larson
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at www.marklarson.com.