I AM REALLY comfortable with my editor, Mel Rothenburger. Mel and I graduated from the same high school in the verdant Okanagan down there in Oliver. Sometimes pronounced All-over, but that’s another story.
Mel is really good at choosing just the right picture to go with my columns. His comments about me being a “sometimes student” are also accurate. I like to mix it up with everything, especially when I can be a man of the tools. For me rigid thinking is not only dangerous but boring. I only started playing chess a few months ago and I am happily hooked on the strategies.
Going forward with this column I will encounter many turning points in strategy and tactics. This column will be about, as Mel wrote, “…looking into my own brain.”
So that I don’t get lonely or go nuts I also plan to direct this study towards how the brains of others function or don’t function.
For starters, what speculations can we develop when we see Donald Trump insult Angela Merkel by refusing to shake her hand?
Before I trip into a raging judgment of Trump I pull back and remember Virginia Satir’s advice. “Everyone is doing the best they can and when they can do better they will.” Still, why did he not shake her hand and what must have been going through her mind?
This macrocosm of what is happening in that haplessly paranoid and confused republic to the south is or can be reflective of our own lives here in small city B.C. I plan to write about the flexible and the inflexible thinking that motivates my own decisions and the unworkable, stubborn positions I sometimes take. I will also look at how that works in the minds of diplomats and government executives.
If those of us who think the way we have always thought could be persuaded to see the unreasonable and repugnant results of our attitudes how would politics and whole populations change for the better?
I know, I am going to be counselled to not think in Utopian terms. Like the Beatles I am asking you to imagine.
Take your average garden variety racist. He is only able to imagine that a doubt, a second thought, should enter his head if he can formulate, make, the insight that perhaps he shouldn’t have such a difficult-for-everyone attitude. In the neurons, where thoughts live in our brains, operations go best when pairs of electrical currents spark. The neurons that wire together fire together. The neurons that fire together wire together. Both operations happen in our brains. This is the pairing and coupling that trigger insights. It requires a brave, open mind.
This word insight is very important. We often use it without being aware of its full meaning. An insight is like a light bulb turning on in our head. Mental insight happens when we realize, as in discover, the reality of the fact that a pair of circumstances, events or conditions that we previously thought had nothing to do with each other, are in fact very connected and almost constantly interrelated.
This speaks to the entrenched thinking of our garden variety racist. He consistently cherry-picks facts, artificially inflates them into anecdotes and generalizes this information to fabricate baseless positions. Because of the inflexible nature of his brain plasticity his thoughts are like sled runners cut deep into ice tracks. He cannot imagine thinking in a different way or that his thinking could be wrong or harmful. It is difficult for him to get out of those tracks.
To direct this back to the macro level this has huge implications for human nature. In foreign countries and our own we see wars, famine and grief. We wonder, will it ever change and why is so much of human nature so cruel and bloody?
Until recently it was thought that men’s minds don’t change; that they can’t. The advancements in knowing about our brains is changing this; putting those old inflexible assumptions on the untruth pile. There is hope. If the minds of people can change and improve then so can the world we live in.
Time to tell you about some of my source material. The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D.
Hey, this brain plasticity really works! My math mark is up from a mid-eighties average. I got 97 per cent on my last test!
Elon Newstrom is a Kamloops resident and an occasional TRU student who is looking into his own brain, and sometimes the brains of others, and writing about what he finds.