UnderCover Waitress: Taking a Second Look

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Taking a Second Look

This #letsblogoff theme gave me pause. What have I, in the course of my life, taken a second look at and, as a result, come to a completely different conclusion? Perhaps... everything.

One of the interesting things about human memory is how inaccurate it is. Even the court system in the states has started to acknowledge what psychologists have known for a long time: that eyewitness testimony is not reliable.

Regarding testimony in court, it seems that the more time that passes between the crime and the testimony, the more certain the witness is of what he saw. This normal tendency to think "I remember" is counter-intuitive. It makes more sense to recognize that as time goes by, memory does erode.

I remember watching a documentary/news show on television that told the story of a rape victim and the man convicted of the crime. The victim was positive, absolutely certain, when she saw the accused's face that this was the man. She recognized him beyond any doubt. After he had languished in prison for a number of years, DNA testing became more commonplace, and the evidence in this case was tested for his DNA. Based upon the DNA results, the man in prison could not have committed the crime. He was exonerated and set free.

Talk about taking a second look. This was a good example to air on television because of the way it resolved. The woman was sick with shock and a sense of guilt that the wrong man was convicted. She had been so sure! She apologized to him and the two remained in contact. Maybe they really did become friends.

The above is a stark example of an everyday truth that memory is not reliable. The above example shows that we may come to believe "memories" that are inaccurate. It is also true that memory is affected by perspective.

I remember having a disagreement with a co-worker many years ago. Our boss sat down with the two of us to brainstorm the problem. We each described "what had happened." As our boss noted, we seemed to be describing two completely different events. Neither one of us was lying, but we had completely different perspectives on the event. Once the validity of both viewpoints was acknowledged, we were able to problem-solve.

What is memory worth if our memories are so unreliable? I think memory helps us script our stories to define our lives and give our lives meaning. When I sit down to blog, the flood of waitressing memories from a moment ago to years ago come to mind full force and take precedence. My memories come together to form my identity as waitress.

When I am in class, however, waitressing is the furthest thing from my mind. Other aspects of my life come to the front of my memories and, in a way, form a different identity.

How we remember things may actually shape who we are, and as we change and learn and grow, I wonder that our memories change with us. Or, at least our perspective on our memories and, therefore, which aspects we things we remember clearly, and assign importance.


  1. I like your approach to this prompt!

    I just finished The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and it is all about taking that Second Look and the need to question Memory and Historical Record, etc. some events/impressions were correct, and some were skewed for one reason or another. Memory is a fascinating subject.


  2. Memory really is a subject all to itself. The line is “in memory yet green,” but, as you correctly pointed out, it often is not green at all.

  3. @L, thanks, and I will look up that book. This has a been a very fun letsblogoff so far because of the wide variety of ways that authors are approaching the theme.

    @Joe, lol. I remember it as blue, but somebody else said it was yellow...

  4. Not only is memory unreliable, but the way "suspects" are presented to victims can influence their answers. If you present suspects one at a time and ask them if that's the man, they're less likely to have a "false positive" and finger the wrong guy. If you present all the suspects at once (like TV lineups) then the victim is likely to assume one of those guys must be the attacker and will pick the guy who looks most like the attacker, even if the guy is innocent. They've done numerous studies on this, and even some TV shows (Flashpoint is one) have addressed issues with "forcing" victims to choose someone out of a lineup and/or presenting all suspects at once instead of one at a time.

    Good post. :)

  5. @FMT, that is really interesting about line-ups being less dependable than considering possible suspects one at a time. Thanks for commenting! :-)


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