Which Group Do You Belong To?
"The trend is clear: A single-word label is enough to change your brain’s basic preconscious response to another person in pain; in other words how much you care about them. You might have opinions about religion and it’s historical divisiveness, but even atheists cared more about other atheist's hands getting stabbed, more than other people. So it’s not about religion it’s about which team you are on.”
The Human Mind.
An incredible thing and yet so easily hoodwinked.
In a previous article I’ve shared how your brain and nervous system don’t perceive reality directly, but are reliant on our nervous systems and brain to infer what ‘reality’ is.
The whole process happens very fast and for the most part beyond our conscious awareness of how or what we are deleting, distorting and generalising.
Our biology constrains our ability to perceive.
But it’s not the only thing - how we think (or not!) has a huge impact on what we notice and how we go about living our lives.
And what is the fundamental unit of thinking - making comparisons.In order for there to be a foreground we need a background. In order for there to be a this, we need to know a that.
The whole thinking process leads us to conclusions about what things mean and what things are.
The labels we then use to describe things become symbols.Symbols that we use to decide how we should feel, act and treat others.
You see the labels we use about ourselves or others have a have a profound effect on our nervous system and behaviour.
Even a single-word label can decide how we treat other human beings.
Don’t believe me - let me ask you this.
Have you ever read Victor Frankl’s brilliant book called “Man’s Search for Meaning”?
It tells the chilling and inspirational story of eminent psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz for three years during the Second World War.
If you’ve read the book then you’ll know of the harrowing accounts and fascinating insights Frankl shares of how some of his fellow prisoners were able not only to survive the horrifying conditions, but to grow in the process.
Although often cited in personal development workshops, no one ever talks about how did such an atrocity of mass genocide come about.
Something that began with a simple boycott of Jewish shops and ended in the gas chambers for millions of Jews.
And the Holocaust isn’t the only nightmare millions of people have lived through.
Over the past 150 years, tens of millions of men, women and children have lost their lives in genocide or mass atrocities Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur.
Genocides keep happening.
So what’s all this got to do with NLP or change?
Well more than you’d think.
You see lately neuroscientists have been trying to understand how large groups of people go from a universal value of "don't kill" to "go and kill".
In order for large groups of people to commit genocide a radical de-humanisation of them needs to occur. And the changes can be identified in the brain.
The method used in all genocides is mass propaganda - the story is always the same; make your enemy less than human. Make them like an animal. Make it so they don't deserve to be treated the same as us.
If you're a student of NLP you'll be able to detect the tune of the 'pipe piper' early on.
They'll use rhetoric and story to weave a despicable tale. A tale that is personalised to you. To what you care about.
They'll employ all the tools of persuasion and mind control they can muster.
But being aware without an active counter-thought, doesn't mean you are immune to thinking differently about others.
Our brains are designed to absorb and imprint from others.
All we need is one good label to get stuck in your head and it can be enough.
In one fascinating study researchers invited 130 people into a MRI scanner. They attached sensors to their skulls so they could read the response of the person's brain to seeing various images. Inside the MRI, participants saw six right hands on a screen. Next they saw a hand get stabbed by a needle at random.
When you are in pain or you see someone else in pain, a part of our brain known as the the 'pain matrix' comes online. And researchers can see it activate.
In each case, the participant's 'pain matrix' was activated and the signal was strength of the signal was consistent regardless of which hand was stabbed with the needle.
All pretty normal.
What happened next is where things get interesting.
Next they showed the same six hands on a screen but above each they added a label… "Hindu", "Christian", "Muslim", "Jew", "Scientologist", "Atheist".
The researchers were curious to know if the participant's 'pain matrix' would re-act the same about a member of a group they did not identify with getting stabbed, as they did their own group.
When they re-ran the experiment but they discovered that participant's brains 'cared less' about people who were not in their group.
The researchers determined that:
The Key Takeaway Is This:
For every in-group we belong to there is at least one group that we don’t.
You’ll have a much happier and more harmonious life when you can see the “us and them” games that are going on all around you.
And recognise a deeper truth - it’s our thinking that allows us to mistreat others.
And likewise to let others mistreat us.
Be mindful of the pipe piper pitching “them and us”.
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