I just got back from watching my daughter’s volleyball team lose – Again. And my son is at an away soccer game, which odds are pretty dang high his team will lose. Again.
I find it hard to shake off these losses. You would never mistake me as “one of THOSE parents,” but still – I get irked when the opposing team cheers each point when they are up by 17. Why is it so hard for my tiny little immature reptilian brain to remember “It’s just a game?” Why do I get so ticked at “them,” those other teams, those “poor sports” as they rub “our” noses in yet another loss? These are not idle questions. In fact, it could be said with only a smidgen of exaggeration that the future of the world hangs on us human beings figuring this stuff out.
At “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness, Wellbeing, and Love” seminar I attended this weekend, we tackled this very question of in-group and out-group and the brain’s natural response, and the capacity of the brain’s trained response, even while my congregation back home was celebrating Worldwide Communion Sunday. In-group / out-group stuff is very real, and the less we think we have in common with the out group, the bigger the divide between us; and the more stress we’re under, the worse “they” look to us. In fact, if we can’t relate to the other, our compassion circuitry shuts down. Isn’t THAT a scary thought. And doesn’t it make sense. War atrocities, anyone? And, I hate to even put this out there, but doesn’t our athletic sports-team (over)identification depend on “us” seeing “them” as the enemy?
How to change this? The scientific research is exciting, because we can train our brain to notice when the limbic system is getting ramped up, and use our prefrontal cortex to modulate our reactions. Our reptiles don’t like their authority questioned, you see. But question them, and they tend to back down. So when my reptilian brain interpreted those girls rejoicing on the other team as “them” hurting “my” tribe? Guess that’s the reminder I need: I’d better go do what both the science AND my faith tell me to do: meditate on lovingkindness. Then I”ll remember they are really just 14 year old girls excited to be winning, even if I do wish they could be a bit humbler about it. And, then I’ll meditate more, because in my household, we spend Sunday morning at in the presence of God at church, and Sunday afternoons with the tv, in the presence of the Ravens. (That’s a football team, in case you didn’t know.) Plus, I’ve got three and a half more years of watching my kids play – and probably lose- high school sports. I’ll just consider it all a good chance to practice. Go Hammond Golden Bears, anyone?!