When it comes to subtlety, our prefrontal cortex is at a disadvantage. That’s where the “executive functioning” happens in our brains, and it’s much, much slower than our amygdala, which is trained to be on constant alert, ever vigilant. Within milliseconds, our amygdala (in cooperation with other brain systems) has scanned the external environment and our internal state, and responded, often in ways that don’t make sense to us (read: make sense to our prefrontal cortex) assuming we’re even aware of our response.
So, this Thanksgiving, with all subtlety gone, my prefrontal cortex has an easy decision. Why should my amygdala get all righteously angry, raising my blood pressure, my heart rate, flooding my system with cortisol as though my very survival is threatened, all because Macy’s and Target are open for business this Thanksgiving? No, I am rejoicing that the dominant culture has shown its true colors so overtly. There is no debate. What better way to distinguish myself as a person of the Christian faith instead of the Marketplace faith, than to have that consumeristic, insidious, seductive, pervasive faith rise up and say, “Follow me this Thanksgiving!” in such a non-Christian way that my prefrontal cortex is on board.
I’ve often been a tad envious of my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, whose faith has for the most part flown under the shopping-advertising radar of the marketplace culture. Christianity and patriotism and consumerism have become so tightly woven, it has felt impossible to separate the strands.
But thank you, Macy’s and Target, for while Thanksgiving is not a Christian holy day, it is a day set aside to practice gratitude, a spiritual discipline central to most all religions and spiritual paths. This year, you’ve made it easy. Jews have Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah; Muslims have Ramadan and Eid, and now all people of all faiths can distinguish themselves as following a different path. We who are not at your door or cash register on Thanksgiving are different from, or “holy” in the Hebrew sense of “set apart from” the dominant culture.
Dominant Culture? You’ve lost this battle for our souls. And maybe freed us enough to consider this “Holiday/Shopping Season” as a chance to loosen your stranglehold on our brains. For you try, and are often successful, at priming our non-thinking amygdalae with the anxiety and worry that keeps us shopping these many days. Maybe, this Thanksgiving, our prefrontal cortex, as a gateway to our hearts, minds and souls – will stand a chance.