Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Remembering, Experiencing and the Tricks Our Mind Plays

Written by: on October 21, 2021

Polarization or the contrasts of various perspectives seems to be themes that reappear in the readings these days. Daniel Kahneman’s widely cited, influential book Thinking, Fast and Slow, is yet another example. His descriptions of contrasting decision-making approaches that influence one’s biases. He highlights the variety of seemly logical processes that a person or institution use to come to erroneous conclusions. This work has value across many fields including psychology but could also be relevant in politics, media, business, really anywhere people are attempting to make unbiased decisions or engage in accurate research. For me Kahneman’s writing is like navigating a statistics textbook, and it was easy for me to get bogged down. That being said it reminded me of a more technical version of Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong (unfortunately I am on the road and do not have access to the book). As I remember her book also covered a wide range of biases and there influences but for me, she was an easier read.
My reflections on Thinking Fast and Slow led me to the tricks of the mind that has manifested itself in the lives of migrants, foreign workers, and people who were workers behind the Iron Curtain. In my observation, and or personal experiences, all three of these groups are confront with the disconnect between what they remember, and the actual experience. My experiences with migrants started with my grandmother. She came to the US as a twenty-one-year-old escaping the responsibilities of the eldest child in a large family. From what she told me; she was given a legitimate way out by going to Seattle to assist an aunt who lived there. The United States was an opportunity to a life that was not possible in the little village in near the Artic Circle in Sweden. Like many migrants she attempted to deal with the cultural differences by integrating into the dominate US culture through acquiring the language, joining clubs, associating with others from the homeland. All the while there remained this nostalgic memory or remembering of the “home”. This disconnect between the memories and the experiences becomes so strong that many migrants return “home”. This is exactly what my grandparents did when my dad was about fourteen. I have observed this same behavior with many Polish people who have either come to the US for school, work, or other reasons. There is a need to somehow resolve the tension between what they remember of the homeland and the actual experiences that led them to migrate in the first place. The fact that I am American tells you that my grandparents adventure to the homeland resulted in them returning to the US. It took them six months of experiences that their nostalgic memories did not reflect the home they were remembering. The new experiences may have confirmed the reasons they left in the first place; I cannot say for sure. But the “homeland” they experienced no longer represented the place they desired to live. I have seen this with many Poles as well. The interesting thing is that just because they returned it does not mean that the divide between what was remembered, and the experiences was resolved or that there was peace. For my grandmother it was not until I took her to Sweden when she was in her late 80s did, she finally fully see and refer to the US as her home.
For myself, as a long-time foreign worker who is looking at a longer stay in the US than I have done in twenty years. I am constantly being confronted with how I remember “home” to be like and the actual experiences of my days. This includes not only the society at large but friends, daily activities, and church life. Those things I once longed for have disappointed me. Last year it could be attributed to the Covid 19 influences but this time it has just as much to do with me, my thinking, world view, values, and generally very different lifestyle.
Kahneman’s views on remembering and experiencing are also manifest in an unexpected way in those individuals who worked manual jobs during communist time behind the Iron Curtain. These were individuals less likely to have their lives restricted by dictatorial mandates of the government. They went to work, raised their families and enjoyed the simple life. The freedom and opportunities that the fall of communism brought made their world more unstable and insecure. The majority of these individuals still long for the old days. They had money in their pocket, even though there was not much to purchase. And the good stuff like coffee, fuel, chocolate, sugar, meat, etc. were all rationed. These individuals felt in control. Contrasting the experiences of the dissidents, or Christians who were persecuted, in prisoned, and were prevented from acquiring the jobs, education, and travel they desired.
It is so interesting that while all these people experienced the same things, their perceptions or memories are very different. Even now, I am technically on vacation with a couple of friends. I think they are having a fantastic time. I on the other hand, am struggling to relate to the things they find enjoyable. I wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me, preventing me from relating or being able to see the pleasure in the things my friends are.

About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

9 responses to “Remembering, Experiencing and the Tricks Our Mind Plays”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Denise: An interesting post; I didn’t think as deeply about the application of Kahneman’s book as it relates to immigrants and migrant workers as you did. You have unique experiences because of the variety of places you have lived and worked. It would be interesting to see further applications of this book as it relates to this demographic. I also enjoyed your connection with Kathryn Schulz’s book, “Being Wrong.” There were some place of overlap with this book, but not very many. As these filed expands it would be interesting to know where these books differ and what they share in common.

  2. mm Andy Hale says:

    This was a fascinating read.

    There is interesting research on the effects of trauma on the mind.

    Often, when faced with uncertainty, people will mischaracterize the past because the future is unknown. Think the Hebrew people complaining to Moses when things got tough in the Wilderness. They actually claimed that they wanted to go back to Egypt. Really? Do you really want to go back to slavery?

  3. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Denise,

    I enjoyed your post on the reality of the gap in immigrants who long for “home” Many Korean older elderly immigrants experience a loss due to that kind of disconnect between what they remember and where they are now. Some would go back to Korea, but end up coming back to America because they experience so much changed happened and they don’t feel Korean anymore nor they feel fully American in America. I find it interesting to see that even the generation they experienced have a huge impact in identity that they hold onto.

  4. Denise,

    Thank you for this perspective and immediate application to your context. I can only imagine the tricks your mind wants to play on you with the layers of transition you’ve been experiencing.

  5. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, thanks for so much good application to your ministry context based on the reading. I also referenced Kathryn Schulz, especially her emphasis on confirmation bias which overlapped with Kahneman. As for people wanting to return to the land of their birth, my wife is a missionary kid who was born in South Africa. As long as I’ve known her, she has wanted to return for a visit, not to live. Every person she knew there has cautioned her that it is not the same country she left. I wonder if our minds need to create some “safe” place that differs from reality for some sense of our own well-being?

  6. mm Eric Basye says:


    Thank you for your post and transparency. I can only imagine this season is a challenging one for you. We have some dear friends who came home during COVID to give birth to their baby. In trying to get back there were some challenges with the organization and their return was delayed. And then, days upon their return, the country fell apart (think of a ‘stan’) country, and no longer could they return! Just recently they moved to a neighboring country.

    As I read your blog, your lament and season reminds me of them. I pray for the Lord’s continued leading and peace in this apparently uncertain time.

  7. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Denise – Again, the stories you use to illustrate the concepts of the weekly readings are very interesting. Thank you for sharing a bit of your family history and the different dynamics that have played into the definition of ‘home’ for you and your relatives. I can only imagine how you are processing this extended transition back to the US during this season and pray the Lord continues to meet you exactly where you are at.

  8. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise, like others I appreciate so much your sharing of your journey and how you are working to lay our readings alongside your context of ministry.
    I hear your, perhaps, apathy of this particular book with the staggering amount of statistical processes. It was thick in that way for sure.
    I can’t remember for sure but I think Schultz called it “Flashbulb memories”…where our memories just don’t quite get the facts straight. Andy mentioned the Hebrews complaining after the Exodus…a great Biblical connection. But in relation to you and your current disquietedness…perhaps it’s not tricks of the mind….but God doing something in you, to hone you for what is coming next? It could be an opportunity for you to continue developing the practice of self-differentiation?

  9. Elmarie Parker says:

    Denise, thank you for this quality reflection–I really appreciated you focusing on the remembering/experiencing dynamic in Kahneman’s book. That caught my attention as well. Like you, when I was marooned in the States for 6 months last year during the early part of the pandemic, I found myself wrestling with the USA of today versus the USA of 7 years earlier when we last lived in the States. As Nicole suggests in her question, I found this tension to be an invitation to understand myself and God’s call on my life in a new way. That shifted and increased my commitment to the NPO I’m working on. May God make use of this season for good in your life and in the kingdom.

    I’ve also seen this dynamic of the remembering/experiencing selves at work in my mom’s journey and in the lives of those I know in the Middle East who have moved to other places…such a real thing for immigrants, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and even internally displaced peoples. I’ve also experienced it in my most recent time in my home town–the gap between what I remember the town to have been in my growing up years and what it is today.

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