The Artful Upside Of Forgetting

The downside of an oral tradition is some details get lost to time. The upside of an oral tradition is when nothing is permanent, a story can evolve. A more practical example is when I learned to drive I remember thinking, “I just figured this out and I already can’t remember how NOT to do it.” I was happy to have forgotten, which isn’t a common celebration – but maybe it should be. Beyond the skills of learning and remembering, there’s a skill of forgetting too.

Forgetting, in practice (not “Where are my keys” or the “Remind me why I am in CVS again” text message), is part of progress. We forget anytime we choose to leave something in the past. We forget anytime we internalize something we didn’t know before. We forget when we pave over an old idea to make room for a new one. There’s an art and science to forgetting.

Inverting the idea of “What do I need to remember,” to “What do I need to forget,” can force us to take a different perspective. Just like cleaning out a closet, giving away those old shoes is a choice. Just like learning to play an instrument, no longer being a person who can’t play it is a choice. Forgetting doesn’t mean we can’t bring lessons along with us, but it does remind us we have some power over what we choose to leave behind and why.

I know there’s a “dorm room philosophizing” feel to this, but I think there’s a strong motivational component too we can use in our professional practices and with ourselves. If you want the complete take or to join me down this rabbit hole, see Lewis Hyde’s book, “A Primer on Forgetting.”

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