Can you remember…


…everything you did 15 years ago? I’ve gone to meals with younger colleagues with whom I haven’t had a prior acquaintanceship and two years later forgotten we had had lunch, and even who they were, mostly because we didn’t have a significant ongoing relationship at a time when so much was going on in my life.

Just yesterday I was in touch with a friend who is a family physician in Florida. I had coincidentally met a woman who was moving to my friend’s town and she was looking for a family physician. I recommended my friend and gave her his work phone number. When I was writing to my friend two weeks later I remembered the referral, but couldn’t remember the circumstances under which I had met the woman, nor could I remember her name. This wasn’t a matter of my bad memory, as much as the constant and intensive bombardment we have of data, much of which ends up being contextually forgotten because of its relatively trivial nature (trivial related to the daily meaning of our personal lives).

In this context, I can understand if Herman Cain doesn’t remember a woman with whom he had a meal and then allegedly made unwanted advances toward so many years ago. I’m not justifying or condoning his actions if he indeed did inappropriately touch her; that would be reprehensible. But if he forgot who she was, I could understand. I met with many entrepreneurs in the 1990s during my early venture capital days. Had meals or coffee with them. But I didn’t invest in their companies and don’t remember them now.

While I’m not justifying his actions, I also wouldn’t suggest that if he is “not remembering” because he is lying to avoid responsibility that would be inappropriate also, and further not justifiable.

The questions are, “How far back and how significant does one’s contact with someone have to be to be held accountable now for those distant actions? What is a reasonable balance – time, distance, maturity – to which we should be held blameworthy (or praiseworthy)?”

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