I never expected I would be posting political commentary on this blog. I have always intended it to be a very personal approach to our development as individual human beings. By highlighting my own experiences and thoughts, I can help others to understand and learn from their own experiences.
But the horror continues, and with it, my need to speak out. To paraphrase one commentator (Jim Wallis), what will I answer when my grandchildren and great-grandchildren ask me what I said and did at this point in time?
One of the commenters on my previous piece, (Summer 2016) speaks of the “wanton, willful, arrogant cupidity” of human beings. Yes, and we are human beings; we are all implicated in this and rightfully so. We cannot simply speak of the damage done by “them.” We must take responsibility for what is happening.
So where did we go wrong? How did hate, fear, and greed end up getting the better of such a large proportion of the human race?
That’s a huge question that can be answered from philosophical, mythological, historical, economic, and psychological (to only mention a few) points of view. I won’t even pretend to do it justice. But I do want to pay attention to one small part of the puzzle: the workings of our limbic (emotional) brain.
In 1995, Daniel Goleman published his important book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. One of the terms he coined was ‘amygdala hijack’. The amygdala is a small but important part of our brain, instrumental in processing emotions, and the source of our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ reactions. It has also been called the source of aggressive, dominant, and territorial behavior (McLean, 1990).
The term amygdala hijack refers to the way emotional reactions can flood the brain, bypassing the neocortex (thinking brain) and causing a person to act in an irrational and destructive manner. A friend, who works as a marriage counselor, commented to me that one of the most important things she can teach a couple is to recognize this effect in themselves and the other, and learn to control the reaction during marital conflicts.
Becoming an emotionally intelligent, balanced adult involves learning to use the thinking part of our brain to understand and, if necessary, control our emotional reactions when they threaten to hijack us. Sometimes our upbringing, education, and/or daily practices – like mindfulness – teach us to do so. But not everyone has been given this opportunity, and our Western educational systems no longer stimulate investigative curiosity, independent thinking, and the development of wisdom. (There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but they are few and far between.)
Both Donald Trump and the jihadist extremist movement have learned to exploit the ‘amygdala hijack’ cleverly, unleashing hate, fear, and destruction. In that sense, they work together to destabilize all we have known of a civilized world. During the Republican Convention, referring to the Democratic candidate, participants shouted: “Lock her up!” In Germany and France, unbalanced, misguided individuals attacked and killed innocent bystanders, thereby feeding the atmosphere of hate and fear that had already destroyed their sense of reason and is inundating us as well.
In the 1930’s, people were hijacked by clever demagogues in the same way and look at the horrors that war heaped upon us. But the scale of what is happening here and now encompasses the entire world and its consequence is unimaginable.
It’s time we put aside our differences and unite to keep this from happening. To speak out courageously, not with more hate and fear, but with the voice of reason, compassion, and love for the world.
Madeleine Lenagh is blogger, nature photographer, and author of Passage of the Stork: Delivering the Soul. Her book can be ordered at most online bookstores.