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The Neurological Poetry of Leadership (Part One)

This is the second post in a row in which I’ll be referencing something I wrote in the past. Forgive me; I’ve been looking at a lot of old stuff lately. This is something I wrote about two years ago about the way the brain works, while I was trying to explore what was happening to me (I had anxiety at the time):

“Reading about the brain is like reading poetry: the words come together and you see yourself in them and one by one, various glimpses of understanding emerge. You read about how our neurons don’t really regenerate or change like the rest of our cells, and that we’ve had the same neurons since infancy, and you think, “yes, that’s right. That’s why the ‘me’ has been consistent since childhood, even throughout the development of more complex thought. That’s why I’ll still feel like ‘me’ when I’m 70, even under a collection of new experiences.”

“Such comfort in the consistency of self.

“You read about how the limbic system, our mammalian brain, our emotional and instinctual and deep animal side, is the first thing to develop. The emotional connections the limbic system forms in infancy will remain with us for the rest of our lives, despite the ongoing growth and development of our cerebral cortex, our “human” side. You picture yourself holding an infant in your arms and smiling at them, kissing them, cooing to them, “my sweet baby, I’m going to create the most positive connections a limbic system has ever seen.”

“Such romance.

“You read about the left brain versus the right brain, and the right brain sounds so very spiritual, and the left brain sounds so very necessary. The right brain is the “big picture” side, the “oneness” side, the “now” side. It seems to me that time only exists in the left brain; or linear time, anyway. It’s the left brain’s responsibility to absorb and sort billions of pieces of data, to make sense of them, assign them language and give them a context. It’s the left brain’s job to align your body in space and to sort information into a “before” and a “now” and a “tomorrow.” With the right brain, it’s just now, now, now, and I’m assuming that’s why so much creativity originates from the right brain: with no context, you can just invent new ideas. They can just explode out of your head and the left brain will crawl over them and categorize them later.

“Such symbiotic beauty.

“The left brain understands words and the right brain intuits body language. The more developed your right brain, the greater your empathy, the greater your ability to spot a lie, the greater your capacity for reading emotions. I can bet any amount of money that when my sister was having her seizures, it was her left brain that suffered; and when her darling plasticity took over, it was her right brain that overcompensated.

“Such a gift, my sister’s brain.

“Finally, you read about the amygdala, one of the deepest and most ancient parts of our brain. Located in the very basement of the limbic system, the amygdala are our little almond-shaped vehicles for processing fear. The amygdala will tell us when situations are unfamiliar and therefore threatening. It’s up to parts of the cerebral cortext to step in immediately and say, “no, this is familiar. It’s okay.

“The exchange must look like this:

“Is this new? No, this is familiar.

“Is this new? No, this is familiar.

“Is this new? No, this is familiar. Everything is okay. Everything is fine.

“So, during bouts of anxiety I can only imagine my brain must be doing this:

“This is new. This is new. This is new.

“And I like that, the refreshing sense of wonder of it all. It makes me feel like a child in the best possible way, and I hope I never lose that gift. This newness, more than the effortless creativity of the right brain or the rich language of the left brain, makes it possible for me to write.

“And then you put your book down and you sleep well that night, convinced that there is a reason for why we behave the way we do and equally convinced that we can retrain parts of our brain if we need to. And you take comfort in the knowledge that when we die our right brain will take over and we’ll be “one,” and we’ll be “now,” and we’ll be I am, I am, I am.

“Such a lovely song, such a poetic bedtime story.”

I’ve learned a lot since then. And I want to talk about it, at length, in another post. But for now, reading this over strikes me – not as something that comforts me, which it does. And not as something that justifies tough emotions or anxiety, which it also does. But it’s more than that. To me, it teaches me how to lead. I’m going to repeat this ad nauseam: it is only through understanding the human mind that you can understand anything at all. Including teaching. Including leadership.Including business. Including nonprofits.  And I have thoughts, practical thoughts, business-oriented thoughts, about what this piece means to me. But for now I want to share the poetry, my non-practical, poetic self, and hope you understand. I’ll write more soon.


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