Hardwired Nation for Violence and Abuse

The current rhetoric for war, cynicism and violence gives a graphic demonstration that poor tone can be acquired.  In much the same way as  consistent practice will literally alter your DNA, we’ve hardwired our nation against peace. The brain shapes and changes itself based on your daily actions.

Abusive tone, delivered by high-speed Internet connections, satisfies all prerequisites for neuroplastic change. At a glance it may seem tone is instinctual. But if that were true, people could not change to become more civil and respectful. The brain changes itself based on practices we execute daily.

Hardwired Nation for Violence and Abuse

The dangerous rhetoric that makes media money, or wins political points – also illustrates the progress of an acquired taste. Now tone toxins have evolved and increasingly dominate the abusive themes of forced domination from those who exploit  others for personal gain.

Have you ever wondered why you blurt out responses that create problems for you later? Or did you know that your experiences are carried first to the thalamus, where they are sorted and sent as data to different areas of the brain for your response?

Simply put, when you see, touch, taste or experience any situation,  information may go to the cortex for rational thought and consideration.  Or data may jettison to that tiny area, deep in your brain, called the amygdala.

Interestingly you have already stored reactions for war or peace in the amygdala, which is why some people gently swish a bothersome hornet away, while others swish dishes off a table in fear. Either way, the amygdala tends to act quickly and rather instinctively, whenever stored responses get sparked through daily experiences. It also releases chemicals such as serotonin or cortisol into the blood, to trigger often unwanted emotional response.

On one hand, amygdala responses are good since it moves you off the road if a Mac truck barrels around the corner. On the other hand though, untamed amygdalas remain as dangerous as firearms. How so? If you’ve ever  taken offense at another person’s words and lashed back without thought of the consequences, you can thank your amygdala for lost relationships, fleeing opportunities, or regrets that can last a lifetime.

The recent assassination of 6 innocent people at Gabrielle Gifford’s political gathering in Arizona, shows how anti-leadership language incites violence. Words that rage inside fuel the same parts of your amygdala that ignite and rewire you for violence when you act them out. It’s  easier to get off the hook for lack of tone skills, and claim  murderers are just deranged.  Yet far fewer brains start out deranged, than those that sink into toxic behaviors because of practices hardwired in –  through daily choices we condone.

How do you tame your amygdala, and rewire your brain to respond to emergencies quickly but without fear, regrets or anger of the cynic?

Toxic traits operating in the mind of cynics

–          Blocks creativity, stomps out innovation.

–          Overheats amygdala – that tiny sac of neurons gets agitated – easily overheats

–          Creates gloom that shapes others’ moods through mirror neurons.

–          Rewires nightly in REM for more anger and resistance.

–          Connects dendrite brain cells  to ongoing negativity

-         Generates mental stagnation not seen in the curious.

–          Mutes working memory so shuts down learning

–          Refuels brain chemicals for more abuse and violence

6 Comments

  1. Jeanne Male says:

    Thank you, Ellen! Neuroscience not rhetoric. This vital message cannot be repeated enough.

  2. Conrad says:

    Ellen, as always a positive, thoughtful, knowledgeable and relevant leader! This is a very timely and valuable post.

    Question for you is how this relates to those in the society less balanced and specifically to those actually psychotic.

  3. eweber says:

    Thanks Jeanne, it strikes me that the rhetoric we bring to work does much the same to fly us forward or hold us back.

    Walk into a food chain like Wegmans and the rhetoric is upbeat and generous. In other stores, poor morale shows up at the door and affirms its toxins in communications you hear inside.

    Hmmm – we all have some wonderful work to do:-) Love the contributions you toss into the mix!

  4. eweber says:

    Conrad – I love the way you take ideas to the depths. I am just completing a book for the new MBA leadership class we are launching this week.

    Course is called LEAD INNOVATION WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND, and it will offer brainpowered tools for leading us in a delightfully different direction – based more on the talents, humanity and generosity of leaders in the class, than the norms we said made good business heads.

    I need to write a full blog on this great question – and thanks for raising it. Here’s the skinny:

    It’s easier to get off the hook for lack of tone skills, and claim murderers are just deranged (as I heard in the media today). Yet far fewer brains start out “deranged”, than those that sink into toxic behaviors because of practices hardwired in – through daily choices we condone. It’s the latter that concerns me most! You?

  5. Conrad says:

    Yes, I think your priority is correct. However, a psychotic member of our own family commited murder 25 years ago and I had to hide out with my family for three days until he was apprehended. It makes the question very personal for me.

    I watched the dynamics and wondered at the time what other family members – and society – could have done to keep him from stepping over the edge. This situation raises those same questions for me in this context.

    Another element that makes it personal is that I used to work with schizophrenic teenagers on a locked ward, one of whom murdered his family. Many questions of prevention in my mind right now.

  6. eweber says:

    Conrad, I am especially grateful for you – and for your concerns about safety for the community, and your thoughts against violence. While I write more about the normal brain, and am less versed in areas of specialties you raised, here, I am glad that we are growing in keen awareness of how to help mentally ill folks and how to warn others of possible dangers.

    I am better versed in areas that many are still unaware of – about how we can all reshape and change our brains into violent propensities — based on daily choices.

    For instance, we now know that DNA changes with choices we make, and the normal brain makes choices daily that lead to abnormal responses as instinctual. With deep concerns for the folks you mentioned here, I am also concerned that we do not blame violence on people who fall over slippery slopes, while ignoring our own runs on similar slopes toward disaster.

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