One Ripe Strawberry

An explorer walks a path in the jungle.

A tiger follows.

She walks faster.

The tiger gains.

She runs.

 

The path ends at a sheer cliff.

The bridge is out.

The tiger is close.

 

A hundred feet below a river rages.

There’s no jumping.

She climbs down a vine growing from the cliff’s edge.

A mouse appears.

It gnaws at the vine.

The vine frays.

 

She spots a plant clinging to the cliff face.

There’s one ripe strawberry.

She picks it.

She eats it.

And, it’s a damn good strawberry.

___

*Thanks so much to Sylvia Boorstein (Author, Psychotherapist, and Buddhist Teacher) for this story that I’ve adapted from her telling on a recent 10% Happier with Dan Harris podcast. 

Cold, Cold Heart

Have you ever felt really right about something important?  

Like the genius of single-payer healthcare, or border walls, or gender equality, or the New York Mets?

And you try hard to share your big ideas, but the other person won’t listen. And, like Hank Williams, you’re wondering, Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?”

Well, the answer may be…you just can’t. And not because you’re wrong (but check that blind-spot first). 

Rather, because you’re up against several potent elements of human psychology:*

1.    Intuition comes first. Evolved and learned intuitions unconsciously and powerfully push us toward perspectives that feel right—before we even know it. 

2.    Strategic reasoning comes second. When our reasoning mind does fire up, more often it acts as our intuition’s lawyer, justifying and defending a $15 minimum wage—rather than its scientist, open to exploring the economic impacts. 

3.    We trust US and fear THEM. Our evolved intuition is wired with tribal instincts from birth. And our learned intuition comes from experience with people (and ideas) we care about and admire—US—and people (and ideas) that scare us—THEM.

But all is not lost.

If that person you want to reach is important, and you’re willing to do the emotional labor, you may yet connect with that person’s scientist mind—by being admired for the empathy you unpack. 

It can go something like this:

1.     Breathe and be calm

2.     Smile and be friendly.

3.     Listen first and without judgement.

4.     Take a walk in their shoes.

5.     Then share your big ideas.

With effort and luck, you’ll become less of a THEM and more of an US to that person. And neither of your hearts will seem quite as cold.

*See Johnathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion (2012).

Free Your PFC

Watching “Avengers: Endgame” can be good fun. But—spoiler alert—it’s just make-believe. 

For real superhero action, consider that magnificent expanse of gray matter sitting behind your forehead. That unparalleled crusader for pro-social behavior: Your Pre-Frontal Cortex!

From soft folds of densely packed neurons, your PFC unleashes remarkable superpowers: impulse control—gratification postponement—emotional regulation—long term planning—executive decision making. Your PFC enables you to do the harder thing, when it’s the right thing to do.* 

At your PFC’s direction: 

  1. You listen patiently to your elderly neighbor, Bob, who’s upset because his mailbox was smashed…even when he yells…even when he accuses you…and even when you know he’s wrong…because listening will help him feel heard, and calm down. 

  2. You don’t call Bob a “crazy old bird”…even when it might feel really good…because you know he’s just scared…and because if you engage in judgment and name-calling, Bob will never hear you. 

  3. You triumph! Because Bob calms. He hears you. He might even apologize.  And, he’ll still watch your cat when you go to Vegas.

Magnificent, am I right!?! But beware. Your PFC has its kryptonite: stress overload.  

So, the morning your golden retriever vomits in your loafers, and your bus is late to work, and your boss gives the big client to the new guy—be mindful. Your PFC may be tied to the proverbial railroad tracks, powers compromised, unable to prevent certain calamity.

That’s when YOU leap in to action: breathe—take a break—address the stress. And free your PFC to think like a superhero again! 

Your golden, your boss, and—most importantly—you, will be glad you did.

*The fantastic read is Robert Sapolsky’s “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” (2017). 

The Magnificent Emoji

I love using emoji.

My favorite is “man dancing”—the disco guy in the purple suit. If I text you “man dancing” I’m feeling joy, confidence, style, and devil-may-care. Or perhaps I’m reflecting your joy, confidence, style, or independence.

My brother, in contrast, refuses to use emoji. He professes to be anti-emoji.

I feel sad about that. He’s missing something. And, emoji deserve more respect.

So here’s my proof emoji are magnificent:

        I.            The great Marshal Rosenberg taught that communicating our feelings is sharing “what’s alive” inside us. And, sharing “what’s alive” inside us enables us to connect with others.

       II.            For example, you may never have your screenplay rejected, or have your child move to California, or get to do yoga on a beach at dawn. But if the person who experiences these things shares how they feel about them, you can relate. Because we’ve all been happy, sad, inspired, scared, excited, angry, or contented at one time or another.

     III.            Thus, since emoji help us share our feelings—what’s alive inside us—they help us connect. Connecting with others is magnificent. Therefore, Emoji are magnificent. Q.E.D

I recommend using as many emoji as you need, and as you please! (smiling face; flexed bicep; flexed bicep; man/woman dancing; red heart; red heart)

P.S. Happily, my brother seems to have found a way around his emoji aversion. In a recent text following a warm winter vacation, he wrote: “I’m back…just landed at a frozen Kennedy Airport. FROWN.”

P.P.S.  (smiling face; flexed bicep; red heart)

I See You

Cesar Millan, the famous dog whisperer, is successful working with dogs who behave disagreeably. He does this without hollering or hitting—instead he connects.

Cesar is mindful of two things dogs are asking of us:

1.       Please see me—I’m a dog, a pack animal. Not a fish, not a parrot, not a human being.

2.      Please see what I see—I see social order. When I know where I fit, I’m content and my behaviors reflect my comfort. When I don’t know where I fit—when it’s confusing—I’m anxious. I may bark, I may bite, I may pee on your favorite rug.

This knowledge guides Cesar’s work with dogs, and dogs respond constructively to him.

Now, people aren’t dogs. But we too want to be seen. And we too want others to see what we see—especially when we disagree.

So the next time you’re in an argument with your teenager, or your landlord, or your boss, and you’re hoping instead for a productive dialogue, try connecting first:

1.       See that person (give her as much attention, acceptance, appreciation as you can).

2.       Try to see what she sees (listen to her first, and listen intently).

Then, allow what you learn to inform your conversation, and open the door for a constructive response.

P.S. If you have a dog at home, she or he will be happy to practice with you.