Two months ago, at a workshop in South Korea on Adlerian Psychology and Early Recollections, I was asked an interesting question. "What is the key to understanding a first memory?" My response was something like, "I'm not sure if there's a single 'key,' but empathy is crucial for making sense of an early recollection."
We went on to discuss subjective aspects of empathy, in particular, the imagination, that are often overlooked for making inferences. When listening to an individual's narration of a remembrance, visual images trigger in one's mind. Typically, an emotional response resonates as a part of this imaginative experience.
Later in the presentation, I asked if anyone with a taste recollection would share the memory. An audience member in her 30's related: "I was maybe 4-years-old, and my mother gave me a banana. She was so nice to share it with me. I peeled the banana and took a bite. It was so sweet and special."
Most people reading or hearing this memory with a visual capacity envision a little girl being handed a banana. She appears delighted and full of anticipation. While peeling the fruit and taking a bite, the pictorial impression of her pleasure is vivid. Her appreciation of the banana resonates as a part of the brief story.
Beyond the orientation to taste in daily existence, the early recollection suggests a core theme of appreciating life, even in small measures. Being emotionally receptive to the imaginal state is necessary in order to evoke accurate pictorial images of the first memory. Thinking about matters, other than the person's remembrance, is distracting and compromises the empathic process
As a reader, consider the following early recollection. Larry, a retired mechanical engineer in his 70's, stated: "I was either 5 or 6, and wanted to see what happens when a train runs over a coin. I put a penny on the track and scooted down a little hill to watch. A big black locomotive and maybe 10 railroad cars sped over my penny. After the train went by, I ran up and grabbed the coin. It was flattened and hot."
Most likely, visual images of the train and Larry's activity readily came to your mind. This is an expression of the imagination relating to empathic understanding. Thematically, the memory suggests a curiosity about life and a scientific inclination.
As a universal human endowment, the imagination enriches the human condition in creative and boundless ways. For fleeting moments, the capacity enables a person to experience what it is like to be another. Even situations that are culturally remote and foreign to an individual's background, at least in an attenuated way, may be evoked through one's imagination. Empathy and the imagination are crucial for grasping unique ways of being and perceptions of life for making sense of early recollections.