Have you seen RSA animated film, The Empathic Civilisation? It’s a clip from a longer lecture by author, politcal adviser and sociologist, Jeremy Rifkin. He talks about mirror neurons. Scientists have found, through brain studies and MRIs, that a mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another [animal] (Wikipedia). Humans, by the way, are included in the category, “animals.” This means that humans have an enormous capacity for projecting all sorts of things onto the people around them… anger, fear, frustration, etc, because our brains can’t help but pick up the signals from those around us. In short, Rifkin says, “we are soft wired to experience another’s plight as if we are experiencing it ourselves.”
You know when you go somewhere in a totally good mood, encounter an angry and complaining person, only to find that you are becoming disgruntled yourself in a matter of moments? That’s mirror neurons in action.
I always believed that moods must be contagious. But, I think it’s even more than that. I think that this kind of a study goes a long way to explain the negative side of “Group Think.” One of my biggest gripes is that every time (and I do mean every time) I am in a school, I encounter at least one–and often more than one–teacher who says “only ____ more days!” Fill in the blank, by the way, with any number starting with 179, the average number of days in a school year. I often tell teachers that if they want to improve their overall mood for the day they ought to stop having lunch in the faculty room and, instead, invite kids into their room to eat with them. They think I’m crazy or that I’m joking but I’ll tell you, the mirror neurons firing with a half dozen kids eating PB&J and fruit roll-ups are way better than the ones waiting in frustration for the last day and telling everyone about it.
So, today I was thinking about mirror neurons, group think, eating lunch with kids and then, my friend, Joan, called me up for an impromptu bike ride. It was a beautiful morning and I was glad for the invitation. I hadn’t taken my Monday picture yet so I packed my little point-and-shoot and met her for a ride down my favorite road. Joan and I became friends through another mutual friend a few years ago. We have lots in common but probably more differences than I have with most of my other friends, especially on some rather hot button topics. But, over the weeks, months and years we have spent together on this road–on foot and on bicycle–we have cultivated a wonderful friendship that I would now not want to be without. Part of why I like Joan so much is that she and her husband are two of the most enjoyable people to be around. They exude friendship. The time I spend around them is filled with storytelling, camaraderie and lots and lots of laughter, usually over a table full of good food and good wine. And, it seems to me that they have unlocked this really cool fact about life… it’s about the here and now. When your husband is one of only a handful of people who was dug out, by hand, of the WTC rubble on that terrible day, after witnessing one of the most horrific events in our country, you can either suck lemons or make lemonade. They make lemonade and their mirror neurons are the kind you want bouncing off your brain.
Today is Joan’s birthday… Happy Birthday, my friend! I am glad to know you and am a better person because of it. Thanks for the Monday bike ride. 🙂
TRY THIS WEEK: Notice what you exude.