INSIGHT INTO HOW OUR MIND & HEART WORKS: WHY WE ARE BETTER THAN OUR PRIMATES?
Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all- Aristotle
WHAT SETS US APART- THE INTRODUCTION
We are intelligent species. We can discern the difference between morality and immorality, between a truth and a lie. As Homo sapiens, we are upgraded and different from the rest of the beings in the evolution spectrum. Else, everything falls down to the basics like fighting for survival, fear of danger, fear of loss and procreation that every species in the macroevolution does; beginning from mammals to primates.
In the animal kingdom, there is a fight for the fittest, fight for food, fight for mating and fight for survival. But, our battle doesn’t just end on the outside world, we are constantly battling with our inner world too; our mind and our heart. We live in chaos and confusions. But, amid such complexities, we are endowed with the capacity to co-exist. We have learned to plan, scheme and build many great things on this earth together.
As much as it can fascinate, the working of the human mind and heart can baffle you. We possess a universe of our own. And, thinking about it simply leaves me awestruck. I am a curious person and the intricacies of the mind and human relations intrigue me.
With the intention to further understand the subject of human mind and heart, allow me to take you along step by step into whatever little observation and understanding I gathered during the process of my learning.
HOW GOOD YOU ARE IN ESTABLISHING A LASTING RELATIONSHIP?
There are two simple questions we must ask ourselves. First, how well do we listen to others? While conversing do we wait eagerly for the other person to finish up so that we can blurt out our opinions? And, we don’t feel the need to listen because we already have enough in our platter? If such is your plight, then you may never become the kind of person people want to be with. Because all you do is wanting to be heard and not listen to others. You certainly take the dominant role in that relationship and the other person simply becomes invisible. Mind you, this is not just about couple relationships, any relationship; business, mentor-mentee or friendship for that matter. Right from forging a good business relationship to observing new things about people and becoming more aware of your surroundings, a good listener can reap a lot of benefits.
Second, how empathetic we are towards others? Empathy doesn’t mean you have to be in the sufferer’s place. Empathy is about understanding the other person’s perspective. You acknowledge and appreciate the person’s feelings without any judgment. Such empathy is also known as cognitive empathy. When our understanding of a person penetrates further to the level of emotion and compassion, we are able to connect with the person’s situation at a deeper level. In such circumstances, instead of giving a statement like “stay calm”, we focus more on what exactly the person is going through and could help the person in dealing with the event. There are three realms of empathy. The other two are emotional and compassionate empathy. In case, if we have failed to balance on one of the two things mentioned above; faltering either on listening part or empathy. I believe by this time we must have lost more than 60% of potential relationships; career, business or personal wise.
Let me take you through a situation that I observed recently. Here, there are two people; a husband and a wife. These two people share a pleasant rapport with each other. Of course from time to time, discussions and arguments happen but, there is an unsaid mutual respect. So, the “feeling of respect” avoids those arguments turning nasty every time. One fine day during a party, the wife enters the room where the husband was entertaining the guests. The husband was standing on her way and he was completely unaware that she was walking towards him. And, just at the moment when she was about to pass by him, he stretched himself wide. Unfortunately, the path was too narrow for her to pass and she tripped. Much to her embarrassment, she quickly recollected herself and was helped by her husband to stand up.
Now, here comes the tricky part. The husband started reacting and blamed her for her clumsiness. She was certainly furious. All the embarrassment and now hearing something much contrary to what she was expecting. She felt it was rude. The incident closed there and then. What happens next? She kept narrating the incident repeatedly in front of everyone and didn’t fail to remark on him that he was responsible for the insult. But, again he blamed her for her clumsiness. So all day long these two people kept doing that.
There are two things we see here. First, both of them blame each other for the event. Second, there is a severe lack of empathy. The man listened to her woes, but, he was unable to empathize with her.
The first question of whether he listened to her? Yes, he did. But, whether he empathized with her? Well, no albeit unintended.
What was annoying her much? The answer was a simple “sorry”.
Going back to that story. Did he say sorry? Yes, certainly he did. When he did, much to his surprise, the wife’s evening suddenly became better. So much so for one word of empathy can create such a remarkable difference. Had he faltered on expressing his empathy, there would have been a partial, yet definite crack in their relationship. Unconsciously or consciously we sometimes fall prey to the easy habit of telling others to not become emotional in the midst of a crisis and ask them to think rationally. For a moment, we skip our empathetic side and in the process may end up losing some vital relationships.
YOU CANNOT BE EMOTIONAL IF YOU ARE RATIONAL OR VICE-VERSA?
A theory became quite significant and popular among social scientists in 1970s that human mind is rational and logical. But, as studies in the field of psychology, behavioral science progressed, the theory took a little backseat nonetheless without losing its importance. Now, for a moment let’s trace back to the point of our evolution, particularly during the developmental stages of our brain system. Our thinking brain also known as Neocortex which is responsible for rational thoughts, logic and reasoning evolved from the emotional centers of our brain. This shows the emotional brain developed much prior to the development of the logical brain. That’s the reason why in the heat of a moment, we end up taking decisions that are more emotionally inclined rather than taking a pragmatic step. But, taking such decision isn’t a behavioral or characteristic flaw. Our brain circuitry is wired just like that. Something known as amygdala present in our brain is in charge of all our emotional matters. And, this amygdala takes control of every signal received from the senses, probes them for any sign of emergency.
So, in a situation when we have to stand in front of 500 people to give a talk or we have to give a crucial presentation, all of a sudden our heart rate increases, some of our muscle movement freezes, our limbs get numb or we might sweat. These happen as a result of the response by amygdala to the different sections of our brain. The amygdala is like an alarm bell that warns every section of our brain in case of any emergency.
Thus, we see here how amygdala governs any situation especially an emotional emergency before the rational mind could take control of the situation. The response time of our emotional brain is so fast that by the time the rational brain could react with a better response, the decision has already been made, much to our success or failure.
CALL TO ACTION
Heart and mind, both are separate entities. Heart is likened to our emotional brain and the mind here is to the rational brain. We know that mind thinks and analyses but, we must be aware of our heart, the emotional side of our brain as well. It thinks too. The emotional brain must be driven with values, compassion, and empathy and plays a pivotal role in taking the right, rational decisions. If you are a technologist who loves building products, then, your decision of building them must be aligned with certain values and a meaning attached to the product. That meaning could be building a product for the mankind or a product of artistry from which people could derive their joy.
Wouldn’t you be happy if you own a beautiful German made car or possess an Italian leather? (Wink, just a question). That’s why a musical piece by Beethoven, an artwork by Claude Monet or the grandeur in Eiffel Tower continues to attract people. People find beauty in them, they find deep emotional connect in those crafts and that “emotional” factor helps them in deciding whether they want to buy the product or artwork or not. Tomorrow if you buy an exquisite watch, that’s not because it shows you the time (logical explanation), you would rather buy that expensive thing because the beauty, the craft allures (emotionally driven). You feel happy wearing that thing of beauty.
If you believe you take “logical” decision, I might have to disappoint you here. Decisions are not really based on logical analysis. A decision might have come after a lot of thought and introspection, but, the actual point of decision is based on emotion.
A neuroscientist named Antonio Damasio made an amazing discovery through his research and study. For his research, he conducted a study on people whose emotional parts of the brain were impaired. These people seemed to lead a normal life except for the part that they couldn’t feel emotions. But, there was a huge common factor that was playing among these subjects (people).
For them taking a simple decision like what to eat and if they wanted to eat or not became a major hurdle for them. They couldn’t decide whether they want to eat the chicken or not.
What a revelation! All this time, we thought that logical decisions are purely logical and unadulterated with emotions. But, emotions do play a crucial role here, just at the moment whether you want to eat sushi or pancakes.
The question why we are better than our primates? That’s because we can feel a broad range of emotions, we can identify what we feel and how we feel. Our primates didn’t have such liberty. They felt but couldn’t identify. We can make decisions that are value driven, we have the power to be empathetic and compassionate. We are not living just to survive and spend our days on the earth, eating, sleeping and mating. We have a purpose, a meaning in our lives and we are constantly making discoveries about ourselves; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Therefore, we are far advanced than our primates with the power to drive this world and making it a better place by becoming individuals who can take rational yet decisions laced with beautiful emotions.