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Forgetting the past


Published: 05/07/2013

by Jim Campbell

After 118 years of conflict, the Roman Army in 146 BC conquered the city of Carthage. It was time for the victor to claim
the spoils. The Roman general, Scipio, met with Hannibal to discuss the settlement. Hannibal said: “Not even you can find

Sicily and Sardinia adequate compensation for the loss of so many fleets and armies and the deaths of so many
fine officers; but what is done is done – it may be censured, but it cannot be altered.”


Our lives and history are filled with things that must be censured but can’t be altered. There’s no reverse button to push
to reset our lives or past history.


No amount of handwringing can wipe the slate clean from the results of the slave trade and the practice of slavery; or
change the fact that 27 million tons of bombs were dropped on Germany and two atomic bombs on Japan; or diminish the horrors of the Holocaust and the brutality in Japanese prisoner of war camps.


We can’t time-travel back to unravel the wrongs, take back the words, or deny the pain of the injuries we’ve suffered or
inflicted on others.


When I found that the motto of the Campbell clan, ‘Ne Obliviscaris’ (Never forget a friend or an enemy), I liked its
powerful statement. Now I’m not so sure all this remembering is always a good thing!


Recalling the bad stuff can give ancient injuries, old mistakes, insults, abuses and thick-headed stupidity eternal
life. As a result, the past is alive in the present. ‘Remember we were slaves’.
‘Remember the Battle of the Boyne’. ‘Remember the Twin Towers’. ‘Remember the Alamo’. We remember past events,

and an old proverb comes true: “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”


I copied the following words, by filmmaker Liu Zhenyun, because they caused me to think: “After enduring many hardships
over the centuries, the Chinese have learned that reacting to a harsh reality with a serious attitude makes the harsh reality

as hard as steel. Humour and a large helping of amnesia are the secrets of facing tragedy.” Zhenyun then
described the differences among Americans, Europeans and the Chinese. “Americans and Europeans say: Remember! Chinese say: Forget!”


“As hard as steel” explains what happens when memories set the agendas; and, without doubt, humour is a tested source

of sanity and healing.


How can you apply amnesia to the hurts? It seems unnatural. Maybe not!


Our minds do this all the time with memories too painful to be part of our consciousness day in and day out – like
the pains in giving birth, the memories of accidents and sicknesses, and of combat in war. They are moved off centre into

deep storage. Our brain doesn’t deny the pain; if we want, the memory can be retrieved. The mind creates the
level of amnesia we need in order to live with the challenges of each day.


With all the old scores to be settled, with all the lives twisted into knots, a good dose of amnesia could work wonders in
our world.


It’s a human process, a natural way to move forward.  


Jim Campbell is an Oakville-based author and writer. Many of his past articles can be found in ‘Glimpses Through The
Mirror: The Collected Pen Point Columns’, published by BPS Books. Jim also blogs at



Illustration for Home Digest by Rui Ramalheiro

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