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daniel goleman


Limbic Hi-Jacking and Other Fabulous Ways to Spread Mass Panic

stick figure in peril On Sunday night, Chris and I returned from an awesome gathering of super smart peeps in Oaxaca, where we discussed many random things and wonders. One of the cool things we discussed (amongst many) was the giant hairball that is our seriously divided country (USA).

A particularly bright lightbulb went off for me when Christian Crumlish said something to the effect of:

"One of the problems with the way the 'Left' argues is that it argues from a factual position, citing stats and research, whereas the 'Right' invokes emotional arguments." The biggest issue here is that the two approaches to debate, thanks to our dichotomizing of head from heart, don't mix well. One side is purely emotional and the other side doesn't know how to handle the emotion. We continue to talk right over one another.

What was generally agreed to is that almost everyone, in spite of their political leanings, agrees on almost the same outcomes (we want better education, lower teenage pregnancy, better access to health care, etc.), but we just don't agree on how to get there. So, for instance, when it comes to the subject of teenage pregnancy, the 'Left' will say, "better sex education" and the 'Right' will say, "only abstinence education". Of course, the Left will cite all sorts of statistics on how better sex education reduces the instances of teen pregnancy, but it falls on deaf ears. Statistics don't mean anything when you have a teenager. Emotionally, all you may be able to understand is that sex education says that having sex is okay and you certainly don't want to be sending that message to your child.

Until we can increase our emotional intelligence as a general society, it will be very hard to have a reasonable discussion that combines both emotion and facts (both which are valid to bring into the discussion).

In fact, I frequently speak to government services audiences these days. These are well-educated, smart, savvy people. As soon as I mention the word WIKI in a presentation I see many audience members start to squirm. I know what they are thinking. I've triggered one of the many media articles out there that highlights the bad dudes, identity stealers, hackers, and/or nutjobs out there that are waiting in the wings to jump on one of these projects and make their lives hell. Or they are even more worried about the opportunistically litigious types who will see something a nutjob leaves on a wiki and, because it is on a government sanctioned webpage, they will run to the closest lawyer to claim damages. Or something.

I don't mean to jest...especially because these bad dudes, identity stealers, hackers, nutjobs and opportunistic litigious types DO exist. They exist and their existence threatens the rest of our freedom (some limbic hijacking of my own...). However, the FEAR of these negative characters is FAR WORSE than the actual threat. I'll spare you from statistics and research here because, of course, it doesn't matter. What matters is that nobody wants their project or their wiki to be the victim of any one of these bozos and naming all of the advantages to being open to the 95% of amazing people out there that will make the world a generally better place wouldn't matter because even if that threat is 1% that person is SURE that s/he is in that number. I've named the problems. The solutions? I have a few suggestions:

  1. Bring emotional intelligence and social intelligence back into our kids' education
  2. Take the media to task for articles that perpetuate the negative stories about the internet; in fact, take the media to task for hyperbolizing scary, bad, freaky things in general
  3. When you see someone behaving in a way that bullies, performs criminal acts and/or takes advantages of others online, DO SOMETHING.
  4. When you witness limbic hi-jack, name it. Do it in a way that doesn't dismiss or devalue the emotional reaction, but points out gently that the person is being manipulated emotionally. (this may be a dangerous, fruitless idea, but I'm willing to try it)
  5. Spend more time with people who don't share your view of the world to understand all sides of the arguments. Pure logic is not the answer, either.
  6. Try to empathize with someone who is experiencing a limbic hi-jack and see the argument from their side. Acknowledge the fear. Think about what could possibly diffuse it other than stats and research. A personal story?
  7. Generally get in touch with your emotional intelligence. The uber logical approach doesn't encompass the complexity of human issues no matter what the stats say.

That's not the extent of it, but those are some pretty long term projects that we can start tackling on a daily basis. Either way, in order for us to move forward, we need a joining of our heads and hearts...from all sides of the argument.