Miscommunication and Misunderstanding

            Susan Choi’s Memory Work revolves around the story of Bettina whose school assignment goes by the same name. Bettina’s research for her assignment leads to the uncovering of memories that her mother has kept locked in her from the youthful life that she had spent before meeting and settling down as a married woman. Bettina’s mother revisits her memories through photos with the camera, which she described as “a form of selective memory, rivaling your own” (Choi, p. 199). Susan holds that there lies a big difference between what a camera depicts concerning a given event and what actually a person remembers about that event. Bettina chooses to use a wedding photo for the assignment, which reveals the terrible mismatch that her parents were. As both mother and daughter take the journey through the memories, Bettina’s mother realizes that she actually loves her daughter, although she had been an unwanted child. After this realization, she goes ahead and burns the x-ray that holds the proof of the unwanted pregnancy, to safeguard the truth from Bettina (Comley, Hamilton, Klaus, Scholes & Sommers, 2007).

Jon Gertner’s The Futile Pursuit of Happiness is centered on the work of Gilbert and Lowenstein who study happiness and emotional prediction. Lowenstein believes that we as humans tend to overestimate how something may make us feel in the future, whether good or bad. Either way, no good or bad estimations will ever be correct, although they are needed for us to function. In his study for happiness, Lowenstein holds that humans would be able to lead happier lives if they understood that they always magnify their future expectations of pleasure and/or pain. “A scholar of mountaineering literature, he once wrote a paper that examined why climbers have a poor memory for pain and usually ignore turn-back times at great peril” (Gertner, p. 449). The theory of happiness downsizes the economic assumptions that humans know what they want and maximize their spending to gain highest utility. Instead, the theory postulates that humans do not know what they want and the utility they project to receive from the consumption of a particular commodity is usually wrong.

Susan would have a positive response on the ideas of Lowenstein and Gilbert as presented by Gartner as they support the story of Bettina and her mother. The marriage of Bettina’s parents was done based on love for each other, “parents as young lovers” or a “Robert

Redford love story,” (Choi, p. 204), with the projections that they would spend a happy and fulfilling life ahead of them. Theirs, as Lowenstein would call, was an overestimation of pleasure in their pursuit for happiness. They all had expectations in the marriage but the utility that they had expected fell far beyond what they had imagined. Of course, they had some good and pleasurable moments together, with one leading to the conception of their daughter. With the quarrels and issues arising from the marriage, the sweet tale started turning sour and so was the plight that the baby held. Bettina was an unwanted child from the start, probably because she would be a constant reminder of the love that once blossomed. This experience as the mother projects holds pain to her but she later realizes that it is a source of pleasure (Comley et al., 2007).

The assignment that Bettina’s mother feels is intrusive to the memories that she has given partial amnesia to turns out to be her liberation. She is able to review her love position to her daughter and the memories that she has about her parents, which she shares with Miss Shank. The question that presents itself however is whether a life lacking forecasting errors would be happier or better off “Would a world without forecasting errors be a better world?” (Gertner, p. 447). Affective forecasting, for instance, is described as a sort of craving that is inevitable, even though the individual is well aware of the repercussions. However, he asserts that it may be considered as a priceless addition to human life that would otherwise be mundane, with its applications ranging from adaptation to happiness and general prediction.

In the other instance, Susan’s idea of selective memory would help advance the theory of futile pursuit for happiness. Bettina’s mother has given herself to a condition of selective amnesia all in the bid of forgetting her bitter past and mistakes. Gilbert and Lowenstein agree that the process of decision-making is needed for life’s continuity. Each decision however has consequences we have to live with, and the projections are usually outstretched in all cases. With this in mind, humans should have an easy time in dealing with themselves because they cannot help it as humans. Bettina’s mother thought that shielding the memories from herself would serve the purpose of finding rest and happiness from her past, but she was wrong.

In actual sense, the review of her memories led to her liberation. Memories should be left to thrive in our lives and welcomed as wholesome ideas that we can use to assess the futility that always confronts us as we try to pursue happiness. The knowledge of how we as humans magnify the pleasure or pain expectations that we have should help in the toning down of the worries or excitement that we may place on our prospects. This would reduce the impact that the situations would have. However, selective memory is positive in the sense that, although an individual may know for certainty that any initiative he undertakes will never be in conformity to his expectations, he puts all these warnings behind him and goes ahead with the project as a risk taker. Otherwise, all humans would shy away from any form of decisions, crippling the entire system (Comley et al., 2007).

The ideas that Lowenstein and Gilbert propose affect the readers understanding by providing background information concerning the role that emotions and expectations play in the subject of decision-making. Projections provide one half of the picture while reality provides the other half, and both are necessary to come up with a completely balanced picture. In other words, no human can ever venture in any given activity without some form of expectation. Susan’s idea of selective memory helps understand the risks that humans are willing to face as long as they perceive happiness as Jan has discussed in his article. Every choice that we make as in the case of Bettina’s mother has unknown and unperceived consequences attached to it. Therefore, each decision is a matter of taking a risk with the hope of succeeding in the given initiative. An individual who wants to succeed must choose to turn a blind eye on facts that will always present themselves against a venture or project that they want to pursue and just take the bait. This is selective memory accorded to the positive details that matter.

Both Susan and Gertner address the issues of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Susan solves the problem of miscommunication by proposing that wholesome dialogue between individuals. The friction between Bettina and the mother is resolved by the dialogue and memories that they share from the past and help fill in the gaps that led to the separation of her parents. It acts to straighten the view of her being an unwanted child. Personal appraisal concerning own decisions and mistakes are needed in different periods to aid one come to full acceptance of what they have to positively live with. Gertner believes that misunderstanding can be resolved through knowledge that helps individuals make informed choices “We consider people capable of giving informed consent once they are told of the objective effects of a treatment” (Gertner, p. 450). Knowledge is power insinuating that it enables individuals make powerful choices. This helps an individual cope easily with the consequences that may arise from any form of decision since it is the best that they could afford with the given knowledge base (Comley et al., 2007).

Obstacles that dialogue presents as a way of communication arise from the instance where one party withholds his contribution from the communication channel. In addition, information given may be wrong or manipulated to provide a false explanation to the given issue. This is always in a bid to favor or save the manipulating individual form further questions or explanations. Informed decision-making on the other hand will be constrained when there is lack of knowledge. This may arise in cases where knowledge acquisition is expensive such that the individual cannot afford it or when the process is time consuming and the decision is needed on a quick basis. The individual will most likely make the decision with the existing knowledge.

















Comley, N. R., Hamilton, D., Klaus, C. H., Scholes, R., & Sommers, N. (2007). Fields of Reading: Motives for Writing. New York, NY: St Martin’s Press.




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