The human brain, despite appearances in every day human behavior, is an incredible organ. It does a lot to make normal information processing a lot easier.
Just for fun, I’ll walk you though a theory of how the brain sorts and uses information when it’s needed. One of these theories, conflated some with other theories that I think are likely, involves this great neural network where “like” neurons are grouped together so they can be easily accessible should you need a word that starts with “sp.” This grouping can also be done by smell or other associations. So, for example, when I walk outside on a clear summer afternoon and the sprinkler is going, my brain reaches to that location where I’ve smelled that smell before, and immediately I am back in my toddler’s pink polka-dot bathing suit running at a forty-five degree angle down a hill as water clings to my eyelashes.
These neurons, or these little receptors that are named and associated are “primed” based on how much they are needed. So, for example, the neuron named “Parker” is always mostly primed. What this means is any time I want to be able to reach the word “Parker,” it doesn’t take my brain long at all to reach it and pull it into action because it’s primed. It’s something I use a lot.
The brain is incredible! One of the reasons it does this is for efficiency’s sake, but, as I’m sure you can imagine, another reason it might do this is for survival.
If you have had a near-death experience with carbon monoxide, the part of your brain that collects memories about that will be ready at all times, it will always draw that feeling of dread because your brain doesn’t want you to wander into a trap. It wants you to know for the next time that carbon monoxide smells a certain way, makes you feel a certain way, may be dangerous when this certain thing that happened the last time is happening again.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly for fun, but also to say that you brain is not always as 21st century as we’d like it to be. Yes, it’s efficient, and much of what your brain tells you to think and believe is for your survival, but it doesn’t always make sense.
Theories like the above indicate many things, and one of them is that you cannot help but be biased on an instinctual level. It’s not the fact that human beings have bias that’s inherently bad, it is when we don’t recognize it and try to battle it that’s bad. For example, since 2001 when media coverage began to paint people of Muslim faith as dangerous, it’s been an uphill battle in many American’s brains to dislodge the threat that their brains filed under “pay attention, lest you die.”
Sometimes bias is helpful. We are all, for the most part, wary of certain neighborhoods. It is GOOD to be wary, but it is not good to assume that all who live in dangerous parts of town are dangerous people. Were it not for this little alarm signal in our brains, we might waltz into potentially deadly situations without heeding the possible threats.
Another thing that your brain does is file information in a way that aligns you with and against other people, it groups you with like-minded people, and sets you against people that don’t believe the same. This is a social psychology principle, and while somewhat confirmed through testing, is often more contested than the above theories. What this means is if you believe that President Trump is the next incarnation of Jesus Christ, you will likely create a “tribe” of people that believe the same. You will love these people because they are like you, and you will believe that those who do not believe as you do are a threat to you and your tribe. They are stupid, evil, and are out to ruin everything you hold dear.
Is this somewhat natural? Yes. Is it okay? Absolutely not. Because humans can’t be defined by political affiliation, skin tone, or gender. They are so much more and their beliefs are not as linear as your own or mine or anyone’s.
I remember when I first found out about the spotlight affect (the belief that people are watching and judging you), it really hit me that no one is actually paying attention to me. I went through a thought process of, “Do I judge people?” Answer: “No, of course not! I don’t even notice who is wearing leggings in public.” So, consequently, I can somewhat safely assume that no one gives a care if my hair is less curly on the right side than the left. (That is not always true because some people are jerks, but for the most part, people are. not. looking. at. you.)
Understanding that you are more like other people than different from them can help you to accept and love people more. I know that I don’t care what people wear or what they look like, so I can stop worrying about what my hair looks like when I’m in line to buy toilet paper. No one cares!
In the same line of thought, I can assume that since my beliefs are flexible, I believe they are rooted in love and acceptance, and I want for ideologies like mine to take precedent because I think they are good for the world, then others have the same kinds of beliefs.
If you are a cynic and can’t imagine that most people are inherently good, then this argument is null. You will not believe anything I say, but, if you want to keep from going crazy and believe that people care about their friends and family just like you do, then you may stop aligning yourself against them as if they are the antichrist.
Those who believe differently from you are not evil, no matter what your brain tells you to keep you safe. Tell your brain that you appreciate everything it does for you, but it can take a nice rest when having the next political conversation, because in all likelihood, you are perfectly safe and can behave as a reasonable human being.
Peace friends. Go tame your brains.
P.S. I did graduate with a degree in Psychology, but that doesn’t mean that I am by any means an expert. If you’d like, go ahead and delve into research about how the brain protects you and organizes information to confirm what I speak of or create your own, science-founded beliefs. Do not take anything I’ve said as incontrovertible fact.