A run-in with a rattlesnake brought an important lesson about how our brains work.
[Gary Petty] A number of years ago, when my son was a teenager, we were hiking in the Chisos Mountains in Texas, and we had hiked up about 7,000 feet. We’re coming down, we’re both tired, and we’re walking along, both of us have our heads down as we’re walking down this very steep trail, and I suddenly heard a noise. And I stopped. And he ran right into the back of me, because he was looking down also, and he said, “What’s wrong?” And there was a split second, I’m trying to think what’s wrong, and then I realized what it was. And I looked down, and there was about a four-foot rattlesnake rattling and coiled, and I was about to step on it.
Now, what’s interesting there is how the brain works. I actually went afterwards and read a book on how does the brain work, because I didn’t think, “Oh, a rattlesnake.” All I did was feel fear. I heard the rattle, I knew that’s not right, and I felt fear. I then thought, “A rattlesnake.” Now, think about what would have happened if my brain worked the other way. What if the cognitive part stepped in first? And I woulda heard a rattle and said, “Ha, that sounds like a rattlesnake. I wonder if it’s a western rattlesnake or an eastern rattlesnake.” I would have stepped on the rattlesnake. But the fear stopped me. And then the reasoning part of my brain kicked in. It’s amazing because that means we’re designed to survive. You know, when you’re in a car and you’re driving and a guy starts to swerve over, you don’t say, “Hey, look, that guy is swerving into me.” You react, usually out of fear, and then you say, “Wow, he almost swerved into me.” Now, between those two things that happen in your brain, it’s just a millisecond, but it’s very important which happens first. The emotion causes you to react, and then the reasoning tells you what to do.
Here’s the problem. Every time you’re in a confrontation with someone or in conflict or in argument, what’s the first thing that happens? Anger. Feeling the need to defend yourself. Maybe just being resentful. Think of all the things that happen the moment we’re in conflict. What do we do? We have the feeling first, and then what happens is reason kicks in. How many times have you’ve been screaming in your head, “Don’t say that,” but you say it anyway? Because you know, the reasoning part of your brain is saying, “This is wrong. Don’t do this.”
This is one of the most difficult things we all have as human beings, is that little, little split amount of time between emotion and reason. So what we have to learn to do when we’re interacting with each other is, when we have an emotion, a strong negative emotion with somebody, before we say anything, make yourself stop. Now, I’ve met people who do this, and it’s sort of interesting. Because someone will say something, you know it was hurtful, you know it made them angry or it just made them feel bad, and yet, there’s a few seconds where they sort of look down, and you could see they’re thinking. And then they’ll look up and they’ll answer. Now, their answers still may be, “You know, that was wrong. That hurt my feelings,” but there’s a certain edge off of it. And the reason why is they let that little bit of time stretch out. And in stretching it out, they let the reason catch up, and now, they have more control of what they’re actually saying and doing.
This is one of the most important things we need to learn to do. And in that little time, in between the emotion and what happens, the reason kicks in, the biggest thing that could help us is to know the Scripture. Daily reading that Bible so that what happens in between the emotion and the reason and the response is a scriptural answer, a prompt from God that comes into your mind and says, “This is what you should do,” or “Don’t do this,” or “Here’s how you handle this. This is what Jesus would have done.” It’s there. If we’re not in that Bible every day, well, we’re just being driven by that emotion or what’ll happen is we’ll let a little time happen, but we’ll start to use our own reasoning to defend ourselves. We’ll self-deceive ourselves. What we have to do is have the Bible there, have that knowledge, that wisdom from God there, there in our minds so that it pops in and becomes the prompt.
So next time you’re about to get into an argument or someone has really hurt you, and you know, you’re gonna respond with crying or whatever, before you respond, take a few seconds. It’s like they tell children all the time, you know. Put your hands together, take a couple of big breaths. Well, do that mentally. Calm yourself down. And in that time period, let the Bible, let God tell you what to reason and reason out your response. You’re gonna find you’ll have a whole lot less negative conflict. And even if the other person doesn’t do that, you’re gonna have better control of yourself and be happier yourself.
That’s “BT Daily.” Join us next time.