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Precious Memories - How They Shift

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Precious Memories - How They Shift:

By not properly documenting significant events in the history of a religious cult and its leader, cult followers create a network of oral tradition that is directly related to the evolution of the group as it transitions from "risky" to "destructive". As each member shares their memories of cult activities, they do so with strong bias in favor of the cult. If accounts were given in a neutral position, listeners would respond with critical examination of each account, deciding for themselves where to accept, reject, or question the information. As a result, ordinary events become extraordinary "miracles".

Courts, attorneys, and police officers have been aware of this and other issues with witness testimony for some time now. Not only are memories biased, they evolve and change based on new memories that form. Worse, third parties can introduce false memories to a witness. Attorneys are forced to closely question witnesses to assess the accuracy of their memories, while trying to identify outside influence. Though it is often impossible, the court system attempts to extract the original memories from the versions described during a trial.

This problem is amplified by the narcissistic tendencies of the central figure. As the key element to the original memory, cult leaders are aware of bias, exaggeration, and transformation of memories their followers relay to others. As these memories spread around the group, cult leaders often incorporate the best ideas into their recollection of the events, and eventually attach these changes to their own memory. Not only is the cult member influenced by the leader, the leader is also influenced by his or her followers.

Former members often struggle with these memories. Not having access to the original memories, they are only aware of the current version of the accounts. With so many sharing the same version of the memories, the majority ranks higher than critical thought.