Safety and the Role of Community
© Al Turtle 1999
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We can understand the role of community in an individual safety, by studying the brain. From our previous presentation you probably understand that the brain is divided into three major sections. Those sections are typically called the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, and the primate brain. However, it is easier to refer to these, and more clear, to call them the reptilian brain, the mammalian addition, and the primate addition. Reptiles have only the reptilian brain, with very primitive structures that later were developed into the primate and mammalian sections. The mammals have a reptilian brain with the fully developed mammalian addition. The point I am trying to make here is the mammals contain all the behaviors of reptiles plus additional functions brought with the new mammalian addition. Thus you can see that primate's have all the behaviors of reptiles plus the additions up mammals and an additional set of functions related to the greatly increased size of brain with the primate addition. Let us look at these separate functions
The reptilian brain is a very simple structure-commonly called the brain stem. It is also very powerful. Its primary function is survival. And it does that job very well. If it hadn't, none of us would be here. It has control of the two motions of anger and fear. These are considered the stress of emotions. They are really just a part of the survival function. The fear emotion is designed to help us survive when a predator is near. The emotion of anger is designed to raise our energy level to help us rush after food. The reptilian brain really has two states: reactivity, or relaxation. Reactivity consists of the four actions of Flee, Freeze, Submit, and Fight. Relaxation consists of four actions: Playing, Mating, Nurturing, and Creative Work. In reptiles, behavior is directly responsive to what is going on in the environment. The point I want to make is that for the reptilian brain the connection between that brain and the outside world is quite immediate. Reality is what is going on around.
When the mammalian addition is combined with a reptilian brain in mammals we have several new features. The new emotions of grief and joy appear. The purpose of grief is to adjust the body to losses. While it is not extremely necessary in mammals, this function becomes essential in humans. We also have the emotion of joy, which in my opinion is the reason for life in humans. In the opinion of my horse, is also the reason for life.
Mammals get an additional characteristic: the associative of function, or commonly called the “need for community”. Built into this part of the brain is an essential requirement of a community in which to live. Most mammals are gregarious and live in groups. And separation from the group is experienced as pain and is associated with fear. Watching horses, you can see a lead mare control young horses by pushing them out of the herd until they behave. Dogs and cats who are left alone display extreme symptoms of distress.
Because mammals have relatively short memories, it appears that they do not “mind” submitting behavior. Dogs will submit to their owners behaviors if in return they remained close to their keeper. And they do not appear to develop the “resentment” that primates with their larger memories.
And finally, the behavior of mammals is again quite directly connected to what takes place in their environment. The reptilian brain with the mammalian addition does not appear to interfere with the connection to the outside world. And in mammals it appears quite easy to train them. Obedience is a function of close connection to the outside world, a need for community, and short-term memory.
We're now prepared to talk about the primate addition. In primate's you'll find the basic functions of the reptilian brain (reactivity, relaxation), combined with a basic additions of the mammalian brain (need for community), with several significant additions. The biggest addition is the incredible development of complexity. The cortical structures, the right and left hemispheres, the visual and auditory cortexes, the frontal and posterior lobes, provide an incredibly complex system that takes its position between sensory input from the eyes, the ears, the nose, on the one hand and the reactivity of the mammalian and reptilian brains. This brings about the change in the responsive to the of the person to the world. Actually the survival system of a human being does not respond to the world but responsive cortex. Let's take look at this.
The cortex is designed to make sense of sensory input by comparing that input to its memories. When you see a car, the cortex compares that image with hundreds of thousands of stored memories and produces an awareness of car-ness. This awareness includes an awareness of attributes of a car including the words for it, its function, its value, etc. the reptilian brain and mammalian addition do not see the car, they see the reaction of the cortex to the car. Therefore, if the car is associated with memories that have contained fearful elements in the past, the reptilian brain will react to a car with fear, even though the present car is not a threat. This distancing between the outside world and the internal reaction is a characteristic of primates. And it leads to the two major additions to functioning brought by the primate brain: vast complexity and internally driven behavior.
Because of the complexity there is no way to compare the experiencing a one-person with the experiencing of another. This is what brings about all the confusion about the appearance of agreement. It is easier to say that two people will never agree, because they will always experience any situation differently. It
And, because of the distancing from an outside world, and the complexity, it is clear that humans do things because of their own choice, not through obedience. In fact, obedience is not a characteristic of humans. Independent action, independent choosing is natural for humans. An examination of the activity within the cortex shows that when a doorbell rings the cortex goes through many hundreds of shifts of state before the final decision to answer the door is reached. Modern psychology is fully aware that you can tell anyone what to do. Consciously or unconsciously they will make their own decisions about their behavior and about their emotions.
The addition of the amount of memory that comes with a primate brain brings about the requirement of grief. For now humans need to let go of the past. Humans are capable of developing expectations, feeling disappointment, and need grieving as a mechanism to restore the system to balance when humans experience loss. And while grief becomes important resentment now becomes a problem. It is with humans that the capacity for obedience, for submitting, now includes resentment and revenge. If you order a dog around, you'll probably get away with it. If you order your partner around, sooner or later you'll pay for it.
A peculiar characteristic of the cortex further demands community. It appears that the human brain if raised without community remains essentially chaotic. What happens is that the brain shifts from state to state depending upon the circumstance. When frightened it will shift to a particular state in which it has certain memories. When angry it will shift to a different state in which it will experience different memories. When driving a car the memories, close to the surface are those necessary for driving the car. The cortical brain appears to be highly efficient. This shifting from state to state appears not to be within the awareness of the individual. If you were to observe a human raised a desert island alone, I think you would experience a person who seems to shift personality depending upon what happened. Many cultures believe that humans naturally have multiple personalities and they must be trained to have one personality who is the senior of the group.
Given this information we can begin to define what kind of community a primate is designed to the raised in. Today this is my best guess.
1. Safety is maintained: the reactivity of the reptilian brain is soothed andthe community considers that this as a desirable goal. Thus the first action of the community to a frightened or angry person is to calm them.
2. Diversity is supported: this means that the vast complexity of individuals is understood and conformity is not a desirable trait. Everything is seen in its variety. Commodities may be avoided. Diversity, the description of differences, the telling of a variety of stories, would be encouraged.
3. There is a belief in self-control. It is assumed in this community that each person is making their own decisions for themselves, that each person is self responsible. There are few external controls. And the community appreciates that each person has an internal decision process.
4. Membership is unconditional. There is no way to lose membership in the community.
5. There is a form of listening called pre-appreciative witnessing. This means that people are appreciated without having to do anything. A baby is considered a fully functioning human being who has a body problem. And the community is waiting with appreciation for the child to express its purpose in the community.
6. There is a spiritual appreciation of the seen world and the unseen worlds and of the world nature.
7. There is an awareness in the community that each individual has a unique purpose. That awareness is expressed in expectation of that purpose being displayed by the initiative of the individual.
That is my current list. And I like to go further and to state that I believe that all reactivity that we see among humans is nothing more than an expression of that internal desire, programmed into us,. for a reliable membership in a community such as that outlined above.