Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why You Can't Express the Most Important Things

Have you ever been deeply moved by a sermon or talk and then tried to explain it to someone who wasn't in attendance? Did you find yourself stumbling for words and even struggling to remember the content, much to your embarrassment? Were you only able to summon pedestrian, cliched words like "wow!", "amazing!" or "awesome!" Did you face and your eyes say so much more than your mouth?

I want you to know that your response actually confirmed how deeply the message hit you. 

A few years ago, after I told my wife I loved her, she asked "what do you love about me?" I paused. It was more than the introvert pause before speaking. It was long enough of a pause to transform a positive interaction into an uncomfortable one.  

If that has ever happened to you, I want you to know that your lack of a response actually indicates how deeply you love.

I recently watched a profound TED talk by Simon Sinek, called "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" and even though my first responses to watching it were "Amazing!" and "Wow!" I have had time to reflect and think on it further so I sound a little smarter.

I highly recommend his entire talk, but the point that I want to emphasize is what he does with neurology. I find neurological studies fascinating, even though I generally understand about 5% of what is conveyed about the human brain. What Sinek said is that the human brain is broken up into three sections, and one section, the neo-cortex, controls language and reason and logic. This part of the brain is unique to humans. But the other two parts of the brains, called the limbic brain, is responsible for emotions and motivations.The limbic brain controls human behavior and choices but it has no language capacity. We speak from from neo-cortex but we decide from the limbic brain.

Sinek explains that when we talk about "deciding from the gut" or "choosing with the heart" we are actually referring to the limbic brain, that center of emotion and choice. And so, returning to my earlier points, when a talk or a sermon strikes us deeply it lands in the limbic parts of the brain, which has no power to speak. That's why we fall back on simple, demonstrative words or facial expressions. Rather than demonstrating that we weren't very good listeners, our inability to articulate what the talk was about actually might indicate how fully we actually listened. And by that logic (using my neo-cortex now), a person that can very clearly delineate the points of a sermon, may not have actually fully listened. It may have stayed on the surface and thus has no power to change a person.

And, when your wife asks you what you love about her, and you can't answer well, that means (well, in most cases) that you love her in the limbic part of your brain, the center of emotion and choice and behavior. Your limbic brain has no ability to express what you love about her. That's why you show your love best through action and why even the most beautiful words can fall flat.

Still, it wouldn't hurt to do some preparation for when she asks you that in the future.