I would like to thank Brian Williams for helping me understand why I do what I sometimes do. No, I do not exaggerate the stories I report on, and no, I do not outright fabricate things, possibly to impress people. And I absolutely do believe that if I was ever in a helicopter that came under fire in the skies over Iraq, I would retain total recall of the event.
The prettier name for what Williams, 55, did is "misremembered." In his case, he exaggerated the dangers he faced in doing his job -- possibly more than once. Granted, when misremembering is done by a trusted American news anchor in front of millions of people, the consequences are greater than when Grandpa spreads his hands wider each time he tells you about the big fish he caught back in 1958.
While Williams' misremembrances may or may not be a career-ender for the long-time journalist, misremembering is a trap door that almost every person over 50 has likely fallen through at one time or another. My mother used to misremember that she didn't actually go to college because she wanted to be thought of as smart, which she was -- albeit degree-less. An old friend still tells people he hitchhiked around the world in the 1960s when in fact he backpacked through Europe, never stepping foot on several continents. But he misremembers this so that people will think he was adventurous in his youth; it's also probably how he'd like to remember his youth.
I know many women who misremember their age. They never remember themselves as older than they really are, but always younger -- which, I suspect in their minds is better. And I know plenty of people who misremember the size of their houses -- this time with bigger numbers, not lower ones. I once engaged in a misremembrance of my own: I was at dinner with a group of very wealthy women and one of them gushed in admiration over the designer handbag I was carrying. I promptly told her it was a knock-off that I had gotten for $25 when in fact it was a knock-off that cost $40. I didn't like her, wrote her off as a superficial snob, and felt the need to underscore her inability to spot a fake. I could have stopped at "knock-off," but wanted to rub her nose in it so I lowered the price. The fake price on the fake bag stuck. My need to take down rich snobs comes second only to my need to be thought of as a great bargain shopper. For me, this one was a double-hitter misremembrance.
But we all have our misremembrances, most of them harmless. We misremember our son's amazing soccer goal scored against four defenders when in fact he got lucky and was unguarded. We misremember the brilliance of our daughter when we tell people she's on the honor roll, forgetting that she dropped to the merit roll this semester because of her struggles with math. We lavish praise on the nursing home we had to put Mom in when we describe it to our friends, but misremember how much we hated its medicinal smell that permeated our clothing whenever we visited. We want to be thought of as good children, after all.
It's been said that true soldiers don't tell war stories because they have no need to relive the brutalities of engagement. It's the guys with the desk jobs far from the front lines who tell the tales. Or so they say. At some point, misremembrances -- I think we can safely call them embellishments in Williams' case -- become our truths. When something is repeated often enough, it becomes the reality and a line is blurred. We all do it. We just aren't all prominent newscasters who, like Caesar's wife, need to be beyond reproach. Williams' credibility is his livelihood.
But as far as misremembrances go, Williams has helped me understand much of what goes on in my home. I regularly misremember conversations I've had with my husband who most recently claimed he knew nothing in advance about the six-person delegation from China that we hosted at our home last weekend. I also apparently misremembered the grocery-and-chore list I wrote out for him. I also misremembered the conversation in which I apparently agreed to let my son sleep over at his friend's house on the night before an early morning soccer game. I misremembered not being told about a big school project that is due on Monday. And just the other day, I misremembered asking everyone in my family to please walk the dog moments before she used the living room rug as a toilet.
Misremembering is part of my every day life. I am eating a dry bagel right now because I misremembered that we had cream cheese in the house when I was at the store.
So the only question left, really, is this one, posed by Jessica Goldstein on ThinkProgress: Is "misremembering" to "lying" what "sex addiction" is to "I'm a famous person who cheated on my spouse?"