On Freely Choosing to Forget Your Past

On Freely Choosing to Forget Your Past

Sometimes we need to let the past be in the past. It’s not always easy – and it’s certainly not always appropriate choice. But sometimes it’s true that forgetting a part of your past is the best way to create a better future.

Forgetting can be a remarkable gift – allowing ourselves to forget painful things we regret, resolving to forget the hurtful acts of others. Most of us have moments in our past that we wish were different, and many of us carry those hurts and resentments with us, each new day we live; this can shape our present. In some of those situations, choosing to forget really is the way to go.

As one who watched his father lose the ability to remember anything, and as I’m also steeped in a spiritual tradition that’s almost obsessed with the importance of memory, I find the notion of simply “forgetting” quite a challenge. It’s complicated to advocate for the blessing of forgetting, but there really are times when there’s no wisdom gained by reliving a certain moment in the past, or trying to learn from it.

In the wake of some traumas, especially those not of our making, or for which we cannot be held accountable, there is something to be said for allowing ourselves to forget what others did or failed to do.

Trying to give yourself (or others) a truly fresh start may lead you to a better life than holding on to certain past hurts and mistakes.

I’m not suggesting that you naively court further pain and suffering by blithely discarding important moments in your history. I’m simply suggesting that pledging to work at letting go – trying to give yourself (or others) a truly fresh start – may lead you to a better life than all of the lessons you think you’ll learn by holding on to past pains, hurts and mistakes.

Unfortunately, I can’t provide a foolproof formula for when forgetting is better than remembering. But I can say that it should at least be an available tool in dealing with the past – and not necessarily a tool of last resort. Being compelled by others to forget something momentous, or losing the ability to remember, is truly terrible. Freely choosing to forget, however, is another thing entirely.

Imagine trusting that you will never again remind yourself of something dark from your past. Imagine promising someone about whom you care, that you will never again revisit something they did which hurt you.

In doing so, you are neither belittling the importance of the past, or of that which was done to you. Instead, imagine that you are giving yourself a gift?- the gift of forgetting.


Brad Hirschfield

Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC's Nightline UpClose, PBS's Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, "For God's Sake," for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.

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