My parents used to refer to me as their “mobile encyclopedia”.
I know it sounds like boasting, but one can’t really boast about having a good memory any more than one can be proud of being tall. Most of it is genetics and the rest is probably a good diet when you were a kid. Perhaps I am part Neanderthal?
My memory is like mating flypaper with a sieve. It is the weirdest and not always the most useful things that stick. Hence the “Fountain of Useless Knowledge” moniker.
After we moved from Denmark to the USA, my father would from time to time call and ask some silly question that he could just as well have looked up in his 36 volume real encyclopedia. (He never got into that you could just as easily use Google.) In retrospect, I realized that this was just an excuse to call.
Based on Jungian psychology, the work of the late Debbie Ford refers to our light shadow; the parts of our potential we haven’t (yet) taken full ownership to while we really admire them when we see them in other people. (Ford’s work is carried on by Pernille Melsted, from whom I have learned so much.)
In families, members are often “assigned” roles. Like I was being the person who “remembers things”. I remember things that my older sister has long forgotten. Perhaps her role was to “be responsible” but not to “remember things”? In the shadow vernacular, good memory would be in her light shadow, being responsible would be in mine.
One of the problems with these roles would be more apparent if I were totally irresponsible or my sister couldn’t remember anything. Fortunately, it is not as bad as that. But every time I try to step into my full self, there is this little voice that says that I don’t want to compete with my sister. For her, there are similar feelings that if she does this or that, she competes with me.
One could reasonably suggest that we are just afraid to step out of our comfort zones and to stretch ourselves. But as anybody who has ever wrecked a relationship because they no longer wanted to show up as expected can attest, these dynamics can be very sensitive – especially when we love the people involved endlessly.
Another problem with these roles is that although playing your role works fine within your family, playing the same role in other contexts may not be as welcome. But because you play this role so well, it easily becomes a default to show up that way.
Like the proverbial hammer that makes all problems nails, my “encyclopedia” role often makes me show up as a knower of stuff when I probably should just open my heart to the interaction.
Even when I know that this context calls for me to meet it with an open heart, my head wants so badly to get involved. Look at me, I know stuff!
It is only recently I made the connection from my head-first approach to my father calling me. Could I be conditioned to stay in the head by receiving a ton of positive emotions and close connection when I showed up this way? And because my father was a very private person, was he uncomfortable when I showed up more open-hearted?
Unfortunately, I can no longer ask him, but this nugget of insight has at least/at last, given me an explanation for why it has been so important for me to be seen as a “knower of things”. With this insight, I may (hopefully) be more intentional about when knowing stuff should be my M.O. and when not.
Because as useful as “knowing stuff” can be, when the context calls for a heart-first response, I really don’t want to show up just as a fountain of useless knowledge.