Memory is fallible, and yet collective memories are one of the powerful connectors in society. They serve as one of the touchstones, along with information and generally available knowledge in a given area.
Yesterday was the anniversary of September 11, 2001. Flags flew at half-staff, memorials happened all over the country, every news outlet ran a piece on it, and more occurred across the United States.
Pretty much everyone alive in the United States knows where they were when they heard the news. Everyone who was not alive yet is shaped by those earlier experiences and possibly remembers their first time understanding the event’s significance.
September 11th is an example of collective memory, but it’s not the only one. Major events like wildfires, tornados, floods, and earthquakes are common examples. Wars and bombings are another. It’s more challenging with positive memories, but events like Obergefell v Hodges make an impression on those in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Collective memories have power, whether to unite or divide. Their power lies in everyone having them, even if they’re not identical. The emotions tied to big events keep them at the forefront.
Collective memory shapes the world. It determines old grudges, new preferences, and more. The emotion of it makes it and anything resulting from it hard to forget. The emotional reactions to September 11, 2001, are still driving policy decisions more than two decades later.
We all have various collective memories, from local events to things that changed the course of global history. It’s a unique kind of memory that cannot be learned from a book, yet so many know the same things.
Collective memories are important. We must also recognize that these memories have emotions attached to them and may color our perspectives. Together, we can both keep the memories and put them to positive use.