Like so many, I’ve been troubled by recent events sparked by the killing of George Floyd. There are many layers to process to make sense of this – social, economic, historical, legal, political, and emotional. I’d like to discuss the role of emotions. I do not know too many people anywhere who took a class on emotions, labeling emotions correctly, understanding exactly what they are, where they come from, and most importantly the impact they have on our thoughts. I have argued in many of my books and speeches that emotions are really the singular currency of human interaction and understanding. It is hard to understand something when angry, and not because our IQ suddenly dropped but because of the power of that emotion.
Our bodies are 90% fluid. We are in effect a chemical factory. So clearly, the impact of chemicals in our bodies and brains is enormous and can over-ride cognitive function. Emotions are the condition of chemicals (hormones) in our body. These chemicals are released by glands in our brain based on the stimuli it receives. Here is the kicker though – in order for the brain to understand a stimuli, it does not google an objective library for facts. It goes only to its own library of experiences and based almost entirely on that, chemicals are released. So emotional responses are not conscious, logical – they occur long before our conscious is activated. The brain is designed to do so. Certain chemicals released impact other glands and organs. Watching kids play in a park or a beautiful sunset releases chemicals that “make us relax, happy.” Watching a human being get killed releases different chemicals, again based on each brain’s own library. For some, it has been ‘sickening, traumatizing, stressful’ and for others it may be less of that. The latter brains may even have other experiences in their library that justify what happened. Make no mistake, our emotional responses are not based on an objective universal scale. Empathy is therefore a key skill, and the most important skill, in human experience – it is the highest of the emotional currency. If we can ‘feel’ what others’ feel without having experienced what they felt, that is a power and gift of enormous value, currency.
Purely from an emotional lens, and as someone who has written 8 books on this, countless blogs, speeches, and tweets (@izzyjustice) – at a daily actionable level, we all need to make an effort to understand the experience of someone different from us. You can do this by talking to people racially, economically, politically, and any other form of difference. If this is uncomfortable or not possible (with social distancing), then simply go to youtube and search for stories of different human experiences than yours, search for blogs, books, podcasts etc. It can be hard to hear the perspective of someone who has values so different from yours but you will need to remember, that person will never change unless someone or some experience disproves those values. Be that person. There has never been a better time to be that person. Suspend logic and use the universal emotional currency we all seek – safety, happiness, and good health.