Hello and welcome to the third article of my neuro blog. In the first one, I described the three parts of the human brain (see image to the left for a reminder of the triune brain), notably the importance of the unconscious. In the second article, I suggested that one of the main purposes of the human brain is sense-making (see second photo below).
The diagram describing how the brain processes stimuli – whether internal or external – highlights that nothing is experienced directly. There are a number of implications therefrom but today let me discuss communication.
Last month, I wrote that our amygdalae guard the gates of our brains and I proposed that they act like a pair of newspaper editors who decide what news to report on and how to spin it. Let me expand on that notion if you will. If you are a UK reader, consider the Daily Telegraph versus The Guardian. If you are based in the US, how about The New York Post relative to the New York Times, or the Chicago Tribune compared to the Washington Post? Which newspapers would you contrast in France, Japan, India? In political terms, pick a right-leaning newspaper versus a left-leaning one.
Depending on your political beliefs, you read one newspaper (in the brain, you don’t have a choice of newspapers) and, as such, you form a view of the world, which results in a series of more micro opinions. You meet someone and you discuss a recent event. And something odd happens: you talk at cross-purposes. How can that be? Well, that other person has been reading a different newspaper – and one which you cannot access. And so you disagree, you irritate each other, you berate one another, you fall out. The relationship is about to break.
Does that sound familiar? Recall the last time you thought “What is that person going on about?” and struggled not to shake your head in disbelief. This happens to me continually with my father! Ours is only an edited reality which is the result of an interpretative process and we each interpret according to our life experiences: because those are unique to each of us, we each read only our own individual newspaper and perceive reality through a filter we are mostly unaware of. In fact, it is a wonder that we can agree on anything! And often we discover the agreement is only superficial.
So what? I hope that my newspaper story has shed a helpful light on some of your experiences of disagreement. Given how our brain functions, disagreement in fact should be the norm because our perspectives are unique and therefore different. With this in mind, I am able to both accept but also anticipate differences of opinions with others. I am not surprised that we have different views.
On that basis, because disagreement no longer riles me as it once did, I do three things these days. First, I am more careful to represent my opinion as what it is – just mine, just subjective – not absolute, so as not to risk offending and start on the wrong foot. I also explain it more: I want to give my interlocutor an insight into my newspaper editor’s selection and spin process.
Lastly, I listen for the voice of my interlocutor’s newspaper editor: why is it that this person has the view they hold? I have switched from a game of ping-pong where two opinions collide to a process of mutual exploration, of story-telling which is so much more enriching. I have discovered much and continue to learn a lot since adopting this approach. My exchanges are more numerous (because immediate disagreement does not nip them in the bud), more considerate and, of course, deeper.
So remember: you don’t get to choose your newspaper, you cannot read any other one and everyone else reads a different one – from yours and from each other’s. If this is the premise, what does this mean for your next conversation?
If you’d like to tell me about your behaviour and/or your brain, you will find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, relax and let your brain look after you!