Why you can't see your own gaps ...I am going to attempt something momentous today but know exactly how foolish that kind of ambition can be. Generally it is the subtle things in life - like changing a habit - that really are momentous - and bold attempts often fall far short of the mark.
Here it goes anyway ...
My big goal today is to start a discussion that improves the life of everyone who joins in it and perhaps even changes the course of history ... and to do this of course I am going to need your help!
Today I will attempt to shine a light into the parts of your life that you can't normally see.
Now any discussion with the power to change lives (and dare I suggest even our perception of the past) will need to range about and cover a lot of ground, so I will begin by giving you my view of the larger battlefield that I propose every human in history has found themselves on. For illustration purposes let's imagine a fictional world something like this ...
The earth is flat and at one end we see the grand continent of reason and the Upper Cortex whose landscapes are filled with bright towers of glass and whose laws are based on logic and pure reason. All thoughts are directed at higher knowledge and all lines on the landscape are clear and strong.
At the other end of our imaginary world lies the emotionally charged continent of the Amygdala - this is a land of no logic or rules - but where impulse and action rule supreme. Style, beauty and feeling are the guiding disciplines - no matter how decadent, frayed, tasseled or violent.
Now between these two continents there is a great expanse of water in which exist many islands and while they are the only truly peaceful and nice places to live in this (not so) imaginary world, very few people venture there.
On the continent of reason, people are slaves to jobs they don't feel good about but 'know' are important. They only eat what is good for their health and won't cause them to gain weight and they exercise for exactly the right amount of time each day. Inhabitants of this continent certainly don't let their feelings interfere with or inconvenience anyone else EVER.
On this continent;
- Men who have families at home, work 50 hours + a week and only go home to eat, sleep and wash.
- Women employ other people to care for their kids while they work or shop (which is considered them helping the economy).
- People travelling from the continent of the Upper Cortex to the continent of the Amygdala as part of their work often fall for the temptation of extra marital affairs which then proceed to make their own and their family's rational lives unmanageable.
- People are made to do what they are told at work (or lose their job) despite their feelings about what they are being asked to do. This in turn leads to a steep rise in heart attacks and the reliance on prescription medication to help with this stress.
- Traditions, buildings and nature (which hold meaning and significance to many people) are regularly bulldozed for development based only on profit and anyone daring to shed a tear is mocked for their sentimentality.
- There is democracy, but politicians regularly break their oaths and pledges to the people because they can simply explain that the facts have changed since they came into office.
- Political protest takes the form of rational debate.
- People listen to Bach, Benny Goodman, Musak or political punk or political rap music.
- There is general suspicion and blame cast on the continent of the Amygdala (even though most spend their holidays and weekends there).
- There are unending wars based on profit and economic 'neccessity'.
Reason can justify all of the laws the people on this continent live by. For example, looking at the first point above - reason would say that many women in the past have had to raise their children with only the financial support of their husband and that because women in the past could handle this a woman is defective and troublesome if she can't manage this too. The rationalists might also add that a husband working long hours for his family is what proves that he is a good husband and father and that really she should feel grateful that he works so hard.
The fact that she doesn't feel grateful but instead feels completely emotionally overwhelmed, distraught and abandoned at this expectation, has little relevance to the rational argument - and her feelings are hence easily disregarded.*
So here begins our discussion and I would propose that without being tempered by emotion, the land of reason, will always become very unreasonable ...
For instance, and continuing with my example; raising kids is harder work than anyone without the experience can possibly imagine and always constitutes a time of rapid (and necessary) personal growth for anyone who wants to be a good parent. Passing that challenge and responsibility to one partner in a relationship while denying the importance of their feelings about it (when our world does not have the extended 'neighbourhood' for mothers it once had) is neither fair nor reasonable.
The people on the romanticized continent of the Amygdala do not even bother rationalizing what they are doing and if ever asked will simply lash out with insults or violence or else somewhat helplessly suggest that they are following their heart.
On this continent there is no written rules but the popular pastimes include ...
- 'Crushes' which break up marriages and destroy familiar family ties.
- Pornography addiction.
- World of Warcraft addiction and other fantasy based computer games.
- Romantic fiction.
- Horror stories.
- Classical music (especially Wagner) and Opera.
- Popular music including (but not limited to) Histrionic Love Songs, Shock Rock, Rock Operas, Heavy Metal, Power Pop, Cabaret and Country Music.
- Alcoholism and drug addiction.
- Over indulgence with food linked to highly emotional traditions and holidays.
- Public gatherings of overt and excessive emotionalism which may include some music festivals, sporting events, political rallies and religious gatherings.
- Romance, horror and soap operas in movies and on TV.
Now unlike the world of rationalism, most people in the world of the Amygdala don't even bother pretending that any of this represents wholesomeness or truth - but instead the people's urges towards these behaviours are condoned by tradition or common practice.
Now each world has its problems but to make matters worse none of the inhabitants can live in only one of these worlds for long and actually spend most of their time flying from one continent to the other becoming more and more confused and at odds with themselves. They want to achieve things in one world and feel good in the other but each world counteracts the influence of the other.
The physical and moral hang-overs they feel after visiting the world of the Amygdala interfere with productivity - but then most people in the land of reason don't feel good about their jobs or the way that childcare and unpaid labour is shared or organized in their families. Not feeling good drives them back to the world of the Amygdala and the negative cycle of their lives continues.
This also represents the history of the human race as popular culture and political movements sway from one extreme to the other, with hardly time to take a breath in the center.
As you have probably guessed by the names I have chosen for the continents, I believe the cause of this duality in human nature can fairly easily be traced by brain science.
I have heard a lot of talk in the last few years of left brain and right brain thinking and while I know they are very different - the truth is that our left and right brain have a lot of connectivity and do work quite well together, while our Amygdala (emotional brain) and Upper Cortex (rational brain) on the other hand are very different and often have trouble working together at all.
AND THIS IS THE GAP WE HAVE TROUBLE SEEING!
Our reason and emotion both want more love and respect in our homes and community and a more affectionate relationship and sex life, but day after day we get home from the same job that we hate and flop down in front of a emotional romance or thriller (and a bit of 'feel good' junk food), or else tune into sleaze on the Internet or perhaps catch the latest movie in town or go on a drinking and/or drug binge if it's the weekend.
This problem is described very well in the book of Genesis, one of the most compelling and mysterious books in all of our history ...
Can there be any doubt that what was described as us eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents mankind's acquiring our upper cortex and hence our self consciousness? God knew that we had 'sinned' because Adam and Eve were suddenly self conscious and 'knew' that they were naked. How eating a piece of fruit can cause someone to grow an upper cortex is beyond my imagination but it certainly fits with the prediction from God that women would suffer in childbirth from that point on (our bigger heads) and also of men having to work. Looked at from the perspective of both religion or evolution, it would seem that us acquiring our Upper Cortex was indeed the point in history where slavery began to take hold.
At this point in the biblical tale, God feared that mankind had become too powerful and took 'the tree of life' (eternal life) away from us. It was not long after this that he also wiped out most of humanity with a flood. After surviving these setbacks God then shortened our life span and also sabotaged our ability to communicate (at Babel). God's fears about the human race can only seem justifiable when we consider the momentous struggle humanity has battled with to balance the treacherous duality of reason and emotion that is a part of every one of us.
There is wisdom in hindsight and it is this hindsight that I believe may help us in this struggle because far from over, unfortunately now - due to our mass media, each continent is even further divided and more heavily armed and we are at war with ourselves more than ever before in history.
The worlds that I speak of are not really continents but two parts of our psyche - neither of which will be denied - and that each and every one of us traverse every day.
As recreation we are sold blatant and mindless emotional excess while most people's work has less emotional meaning than ever. Children and their parents are divided; with adults expected to be purely rational (which they cannot reasonably maintain) while children and especially teenagers are shamelessly seduced with every conceivable form of emotional and romantic self indulgence.
The meaningful connectivity that the Internet promised is now severely threatened by the meaningless competition and small talk of social networking (and the looming threat of the Internet becoming more like one-way cable TV) and with most people not using their computers looking for real connection or education but as yet another place to look for an emotional 'hit' there tends to be less and less time for meaningful emotional connections in our home lives.
So my challenge is for us to get together and begin sharing concrete examples of how we might improve our own lives (along with the human condition) by bringing reason to our emotions and emotion to our reason ...
If you are familiar with my work you know I have already written reams on this subject - but today instead I want to get a discussion going and hear lots of people's ideas.
The problem is that these 'two brains' of ours are very different and it is very difficult to use our upper cotex effectively when our Amygdala is firing. I like the analogy of our Amygdala being a car alarm - you need to consider what it is telling you - but you also need to know how to turn it off!
Or another metaphor could be that we all are bicycles in a land that does not know what they are for. These bicycles are now either being used as very uncomfortable seats to sit stationary on or very clumsy push carts to push things around with, but neither use is very gratifying or effecient.
It is only when we dare to hop on and take a ride and start attempting to use these two very different functions of our brain together that we really begin to understand what it is to live an authentic and complete life.
Not the excitment of a rollercoaster or the security of following someone else's structured orders, but a real and satisfying life full of personal decisions and choices based on both reason and emotion.
I have some ideas on all of this - and Steve and I will be making some movies over the next few weeks on how crushes and other emotionally charged messages can be interpreted productively. I would also suggest that if your home life is in crisis you will check out our ebooks.
Our ebooks will help you develop an atmosphere of love and respect in your home in straightforward and practical steps that are less academic than the challenge I am posting here today. They are based on the same ideas however, and while not easy (like learning to ride a bike) if applied correctly they do work.
Otherwise please let the discussion begin - and if you know of other authors or thinkers please send them the link to this post and ask them to join in ...
To get the ball rolling here is a suggestion of mine for bring emotion to reason in regards to diet ....
My rational brain has a very clear idea of what I should eat to be healthy and maintain the correct weight but my emotional brain doesn't feel very much (except boredom) about any of that food. So to get my two minds working together I will draw up a list of the food I feel the best about and then think of healthier ingredients and ways of preparing these foods. I have also noticed that I feel better about food that I have had some adventure in obtaining and so I will look at what local farms I can visit with our kids so that healthy fruit and vegetables will gain an extra emotional significance and charge when we eat them (-:
I am also going to challenge Steve today to do a movie soon where we put both sides of our brain onto the question of sex. If he takes my challenge I will get that movie out to you soon but until then I want to hear your ideas!
PS. I have Craig Shuftan's awesome book titled "Hey! Neitzsche! Leave them kids alone!" (which I just finished) to thank as the inspiration for this post. His book is a cultural and academic study of history and in particular how the ideas of Rationalism and Romanticism relate to modern music. It is not on the subject of relationships - but if you have an interest in popular culture I highly recommend it!
* This disregard of people's feelings makes this continent a very dangerous place to live.