I know I have been quiet for several months.
I have started countless posts to you, but every time I was near sending it, something else happened on the world stage that made me need to go inside to find my feelings, my bearings, and my words.
I don't want to rehash all the horrible events that have come to play in such rapid succession against the backdrop of something that was(and continues to be) equally difficult.
All I can say is that as as horrendous as these events are and have been, there is something about this time in our world history, with our technological connectivity, the number of people being home and not working, and being in such uncertainty about almost every aspect of our lives, where it feels like our hand is being forced to make a permanent, lasting and sustainable change.
In my opinion, there really is no "fixing of the system" that is possible here.
They system was built on unstable ground and the whole thing needs to be reimagined and rebuilt from the ground up. But just as these systems took time to build, it is going to take a lot of energy, focus and time to overhaul and rebuild.
I can only pray that this is all divinely orchestrated and that it's all leading to actual change, BUT ONLY IF WE KEEP AT IT.
So knowing what I know about the brain, and knowing the goodness of the hearts and minds of the people who are reading this, I wanted to make this newsletter as useful as possible in moving forward and keeping at it.
What we are all seeing coming up to the surface right now in our nation, is our beliefs. All of them that run the whole gamut. I say ours, only because even if some of them are not my own personal beliefs, it is a part of my nations beliefs and if we are to operate as a unified nation, those beliefs need to be acknowledged honestly without defensiveness if there is any possibility of dismantling and reconciliation.
This is a very uncomfortable place to be, where we are looking at a lot of things we do not like. It's very difficult in this place to not to want to separate from these uncomfortable spots and get into the "us vs them" dichotomy. That feeling of separation is a sign of a stressed brain, and a brain in that state does not have access to any kind of meaningful solution.
I just want to take a short detour just to say that social media and the media in general these days, is set up in a very "us vs. them" way. "We people who believe X would never do what those people Y do." Each side has their agenda and it's all about getting the most clicks and likes.
Conflict is very neurologically engaging to watch because it triggers our amygdala and reptilian brain. It makes us feel "GLUED" to the TV and "UNABLE TO TAKE YOUR EYES OFF" of the issue because the brain is trying to manage the danger it feels.
If at all possible, please stay informed as you need, but limit the time watching all the people giving their opinion on what is right and wrong. There is a component of media that is just intent on getting clicks and likes to make money and sometimes this is done by sensationalizing certain aspects of reality.
This is a time when reality itself is sensational enough. Just recounting the facts these days feels unbelievable. Therefore, this is not a time to participating in divisiveness no matter how right or justified you feel you are, because if you are in that dynamic at all, it's still part of the problem. This is a time of learning, introspection, reading, writing, and connecting with other people(safely), and taking actions towards trying to find the common ground in our humanity.
So back to the brain.
When it comes to helping us move forward in this world at this time, the buzzword out there in neuroscience circles seems to be about understanding our "unconscious biases".
I heard one neuroscientist call unconscious biases "snap judgements"-that the brain quickly comes up with a explanation or category to describe or judge something so it can understand it and move on. Some unconscious biases are useful so that you are not needing to recategorize and figure everything out each time, while others, because they are unconscious, can get in the way of us changing and being able to grow into new possibilities.
Just imagine your conscious vision as the windshield of a car. When there are a lot of unconscious biases, it is like mud that is covering the windshield and blocking your full, clear, conscious vision. Because it's unconscious, the mud is invisible to you, and therefore you can't do anything about it. You just get in the car and drive, finding yourself in frequent accidents or at least feeling very, very stressed while driving but not knowing why.
The value of looking at unconscious biases is that once something unconscious becomes conscious, you can make an informed choice about it, rather than just react reflexively. It allows you to know exactly where you are on the map and why, and then also know clearly where to go next.
The thing about unconscious biases that is confusing is that it is so closely tied into the emotional part of the brain that it can frequently be mistaken with "instinct" or "intuition".
"I just didn't like that person" or "It just felt like the right thing to do" can be unconscious bias and not intuition or instinct. It takes some time and focus to tease this out.
The challenge here is that the brain, by nature, hates change.
It is loss averse, and status quo oriented.
It would rather hold onto and defend the thing that is known that is not working, because it's familiar, rather than go into the unfamiliar.
Even if the new thing has the potential to be better.
(And in this case, it can be a whole lot better.)
I can see, in the reactions that some people are having to the protests and all of the changes that are taking place, that they are stuck in their amygdala, as well as their survival based reptilian brain, feeling the need to exert control over their 'territory", or reducing these events to "needing to protect my stuff", reverting to stereotypes, or making sweeping generalizations about a whole group of people and getting into an "us vs them" dynamic.
When a person is in this state, access to the frontal lobe or prefrontal cortex of their brain is literally not available. You cannot reason with people in this state. Let me repeat that,
"YOU CANNOT REASON WITH PEOPLE IN THIS STATE".
Imagine a scene from Charlie Brown where the teacher is speaking but the words are not clear.
If you are attempting to reason with someone in this state, YOU are the teacher.
Any attempts to reason can make the situation worse because it will cause the lizard brain of the person dig their heels in deeper and defend harder.
Blame, fear, and shame, are also tactics that lock a person right back in their lizard brain.
Have you had the experience of speaking with someone about recent events, where you or the other person is overcome with emotion or exasperation or some other impasse where all you can seem to agree on is to disagree and not talk about it ever again? Worse yet, you lose some aspect of the relationship that you had because you cannot believe someone would believe something as ridiculous as that belief you are opposed to.
If this scenario is coming up between family, friends and loved ones, where there is actually a desire to connect and understand each other, imagine what is ahead of us when there are opposing parties, not only with unconscious biases, but sometimes VERY conscious biases that they would like to hold on to.
We have our work cut out for us.
How do we build resilience in this situation?
How do we set up the greatest possibility for progress and change?
First is to begin to dig into and understand our own unconscious biases, and understanding better what triggers them.
The next step is to take the new understanding into new situations. This means being willing to be in the unfamiliar, not-knowing place to have those potentially uncomfortable interactions, conversations.
I think what may be helpful here is to reframe the discomfort in a different light. What if the discomfort could be viewed as growing pains? What if we could see the discomfort as bringing us more freedom from being boxed in by your own ideas about other people and other people's ideas about you?
By examining our biases and beliefs, we can get ourselves into the greatest level of neutrality and curiosity about the other person, and draw out from them a greater understanding.
The more we do this intentionally, the harder it is to have our "buttons pushed", reflexively go into reactions and lose our cool. This grounded-ness is not to be emotionless. Rather, its embodying our beliefs and emotions in an integrated way.
This will not be easy. But there is no turning back at this juncture. It may be idealistic, but with patience and continued pressure and persistence, I think(and hope and pray) that something better is possible for all of us.
With the greatest respect and intention for a better tomorrow for all of us,