This article in the New Yorker gave me a day of hopeful feelings about the human race. OK, so a lot of the research it describes confirms that humans are often pig-headed (apologies to the porcine among us) and inflexible. The lead describes the widely-publicized vaccine study which asked the question: what could change the minds of parents who are wrong in their beliefs about vaccines
The answer: nothing.
Facts, science, emotional appeal, and stories were used to attempt to influence the parents, but they didn’t change their minds. The author of the study used the word “depressing” to describe the results.
The happy, hopeful part comes next. This is the question the researchers asked next: “Could recalling a time when you felt good about yourself make you more broad-minded about highly politicized issues, like the Iraq surge or global warming?” It turns out, it would.
What the researchers are closing in on is the heart of my life’s work. They are a little off-track, because the change they want to induce is not limited to periods of artificially boosted self esteem. Remember the research done on bullies? They have great self esteem.
What the research is circling is the way an internal sense of self plays out in the world. Maybe social scientists are talking about positive affirmations because that’s something the general public understands. The internal state of a person is much less likely to be discussed.
But state change is predictable and doable. We know how to move people from an externally focused, ungrounded, reactionary state to an internally-focused state distinguished by curiosity and pleasure. When people experience, over and over, a sense of calm alertness, paired with control and functional improvement, they become more broad-minded, or as we say in the Feldenkrais world, their brains become flexible. They move into a state of possibilities that they recognize.
Today I led a room full of ordinary people through an extraordinary series of movements. Despite a room that included a person with elbows that don’t bend, another with a neck that feels frozen, a body with pain that sometimes feels unrelenting. everyone moved through the sequence of movements. There were lots of appropriate rests and some opting out. And at the end everyone stood taller, felt better, and walked away in a funny, open-minded haze of learning. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!