The celebrated American poet, Maya Angelou, appreciates the significant ways in which our behavior can impact those around us. She said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
But is she right? Do we really forget what others have said and done, remembering only the feelings we experienced in their presence?
I suspect that Ms. Angelou did not really mean that we forget everything that was said to us or done for us. We all have our favorite quotations from parents and mentors that we willingly repeat to anyone who will listen; and as for actions, we often remember kindness, and we certainly recall and even nurse the remembrance of perceived injustices.
So why does Ms. Angelou emphasize the importance of how we make other people feel over words and actions?
With the passage of time, the human ability to recall words and actions with accuracy becomes increasingly doubtful. We might be prepared to swear that our memories of what was said or done is entirely precise, but psychologists like Elizabeth Loftus in The Myth of Repressed Memory have demonstrated how suggestible we human beings are with respect to what we think we remember. The words we think we heard and our memories of past actions become altered with time and are often conditioned by our emotions.
What about our emotions themselves? How accurate is our emotional memory? My highly unscientific guess is that our emotional memory is much stronger than our memory for facts. Often, when we recall a specific encounter from the past, we are able to conjure up much the same emotions we experienced when it occurred. Unless deliberately repressed, our emotional memories remain strong and intact.
The realization that how we make people feel is likely to be remembered much longer than our words and actions is very important in the life of an educator. When I encounter AJU alumni, they often praise the quality of education they received at our school; but their strongest memories are of the relationships they had with our faculty and staff. In other words, they mostly remember how they felt when they were here, how they were treated, and how they were appreciated as individuals.
In this edition of On the Record, undergraduate Kimberly Duenas shares her experiences in our AJU Mentor Program, initiated and supported by AJU board member Jeanne Reynolds. The Mentor Program is yet another example of the truth of Maya Angelou's words. AJU students learn much from their community mentors, but more than anything else, these mentors give to our undergraduates a sense of their own worth and potential as individuals; and by doing so, they provide our students with positive emotional memories of life at AJU that they will retain long after they go out into the world.