Responsively Yours: First Hit Pause

Responsively Yours: First Hit Pause

In Thinking Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman suggests our instincts are not very reliable. We meet a blond who behaves one way, and pretty soon we are convinced all blondes do the same. Our “quick” brain has a tendency to collect impressions that reaffirm our preexisting conclusions, and when we use our “slow” brains, it’s quite possible to interpret neutral or even contradictory evidence to reinforce our visceral response.

Obviously, this would be a problem if we couldn’t ever use either/or analysis or reflex at the “right” time, or objectively enough, to make good decisions. The author’s point is that humans tend to muddle through this frequently.

We carry our quick reactions from one situation to another. While this is good for athletes, performers and others for whom practice and experience are essential to proficiency, it is not an ideal way to solve problems or engage in planning. The way our brains work is to seek a pattern that is familiar when we encounter a new situation.

Apparently, this is especially true when the prior pattern was associated with strong emotion. Again, this can be a good thing for persons who avoid painful encounters or use their experience to create joyful ones. However, it can also lead us to see a pattern that is either not there or is not an adequate description. Then we react out of our old fear.

Current political discourse might demonstrate this sort of reaction. There is a historical fear response to words like socialism from the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time, free trade and the globalization of capital have created quite a different economic context within which government works, making fears stated in those terms seem somewhat anachronistic.

Hearing about a proposed new mining plan in West Virginia, I recalled the piles of slag and the pollution of rivers and streams I’ve witnessed in Appalachia. This book made me wonder if that was a well-adapted reaction — like the reflexes of an athlete — or a maladapted reaction, expecting producers to repeat their mistakes rather than learning from them.

I wonder about this as we approach General Conference. How many of the concerns or fears impelling us to certain points of view are based on analyses that fit the past better than the present? How many of them are wisdom born of experience? How can we tell?

Let me be clear, it is not the emotional content of our conversations that give me pause, it’s wondering how often our “quick brain” reacts with an old emotion or preexisting framework when the Holy Spirit may be leading us to a new way, a fresh joy or a pain that is connected to how life is currently being experienced rather than grief or fear connected to a world that no longer exists.

We strive for openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Pray for our delegates. This is one of the assignments — and blessings — of conferencing. We are assigned to listen to one another. We are not delegates pledged to a position adopted by a convention “back home.” Thanks be to God for delegates who are open to the hard work of listening and leading. We hold them in our prayers.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women


Posted or updated: 2/29/2012 11:00:00 PM
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