We are living in tumultuous and divisive times. When there are many heated and passionate conversations about topics important to us, it’s natural to take a side. Each of us develops logical reasons why we believe what we believe, and we know we are right – we choose the correct side of an issue.
Because of our beliefs, particularly about topics that reflect our core values, we create an “us vs them” mentality. We are passionate about our core beliefs and can become angry towards “them” and their actions because at a core level they are wrong. We justify our anger.
I’m doing some research on religious fundamentalism and the brain and I’ve discovered a few interesting things I’d like to share with you. Let’s start with a definition of fundamentalism.
A fundamentalist is someone who has an unwavering attachment to a set of beliefs. Fundamentalists have a strict literalism which is often applied to religious texts, with a strong sense of the importance of keeping an “in group” and an “out group”. Diverse opinions are rejected and because of this exclusivity mentality, an us vs them mentality easily develops.
I don’t believe any of us reading this necessarily consider ourselves fundamentalists or extremists. And yet, there is something to gleam from the way our brain functions when faced with people opposing our core values…
Us versus Them Thinking
The truth is each of us has the ability to go down this road of “us and them” thinking. My intention with this article is for you to evaluate if and where this is showing up in your life. And to provide tools to consciously activate the part of our brain that rejects anger and separateness.
Our brains are hardwired to have this pull and tug of Us vs Them.
The limbic system is the oldest part of our brain and it is where aggression and fear reside. This is the first part of our brain to respond to events.
There are newer areas of the brain, the frontal lobes and anterior cingulate areas, which are where empathy, reason, logic and compassion reside. This newer part of our brain is slower and more vulnerable compared to other, older parts of our brain. It is not the first to activate and we often have to consciously work to engage and make decisions from this part of ourselves.
One way to activate and strengthen the areas of the brain that engage reason, empathy and logic is through meditation. Twelve minutes a day makes a noticeable and measurable difference on brain scans!
It’s when people use religion, politics or anything else to justify angry feelings towards others that harm happens. If you do find yourself angry at someone, even if it’s someone on the news, you are condoning your emotions. You are condoning separateness rather than oneness.
So, embrace even a few moments of meditation each day, knowing that as you do you are consciously activating that newer part of your brain that will bring you peace and lessen the automated triggering of that old, reptilian part of your brain that wants to protect “us” and get “them”.
Kelly Robbins, MA is the author of Trust Your Next Step: Creating the Confidence to Cut Fresh Tracks and produces the Fresh Tracks with Kelly Robbins podcast. Grab a copy of 10 Steps to Creating Your Fresh Tracks now for free here: https://kellyrobbins.net/theedge/