At a recent dinner, we were joined by some friends and friends of friends. It was a really pleasant evening until the conversation turned to the presidential election. To our surprise, one guest mentioned that she was supporting Donald Trump. It was a fork drop moment. As she spoke, there was a palpable shift in the energy of the room as it became clear that most people at the table felt differently.
In situations like these, it is hard not to respond with an uncensored gut reaction. The conversation got heated and ultimately finished with each person becoming hardened in their views.
We know this type of response is not effective, so why was it the default at this dinner table? It turns out this strong emotional reaction is the work of our built-in ‘fight or flight’ instinct. This is the same process that kept us safe way back when we were hunters and gatherers, when at a moment’s notice we had to quickly prepare to defend our lives or run. Today, we are rarely in physical danger when this sensation kicks in. This part of the brain, known as the amygdala, doesn’t actually care whether the danger is physical or not. This job is left to the prefrontal cortex, which helps with important stuff like awareness, concentration, decision-making and empathy. It tells the amygdala, “Hey, all that adrenaline you’re pumping? You can stop that now. No lion here, just lively conversation.”
So the big question is: how do we strengthen our internal reminders to encourage discussion and soften the need to lash out? Among countless other benefits, practicing mindfulness has shown remarkable evidence for, strengthening the prefrontal cortex and better balancing communication from the amygdala.
We are in one of the most politically active and polarizing elections in recent history. Popular support has shifted to the non-establishment candidates, who happen to appeal to totally different audiences. On top of that, the supporters for these candidates are as loyal as ever. Interactions like the one above are likely to happen again and again.
In a situation like this would you lead with the amygdala or prefrontal cortex? One leads to frustrated, unilateral arguments and the other creates the opportunity for conversation. There is power in knowing you get to decide.
On the topic of mindfulness and civic engagement, here a few links we think you’ll enjoy:
- This article by Psychologist Karen Young is an informative intro to Mindfulness [Read]
- Tight on time? This video shares the science behind meditation in less than 3 minutes [Watch]
- Rainn Wilson (Dwight from the Office!) shares views on spirituality, virtues, and meditation in an interview with Tim Ferriss [Listen]
- Countable is a great first step towards citizen engagement and direct democracy [Tools]
- Seth Godin shares bite-sized wisdom on ‘front row’ culture [Read]
We know this month’s letter didn’t cover what we have been busy with at Holstee, but we wanted you to know what has been at the forefront of our minds, literally.
We’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite favorite podcasts, articles or books about mindfulness?
Your biggest fans,
Mike and Dave
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