Love Opens Doors

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By John Seel, Ph.D.

Neuroscientists confirm that our defenses go up when our core beliefs are challenged. With self-awareness, we can lower the resistance and listen more effectively. But our attention to more facts—even with less defensiveness—will not change our frame. The eureka moment in frame shifts does not happen through argument but love. This is the error or half truth in the Oatmeal comic, “You Are Not Going to Believe What I’m About To Tell You.” Let me tell you a story….

The castle was under siege by the Black Knight. Defenses were mounted and a watch was placed on the wall around the clock by the White Knight. Daily the Black Knight would send emissaries to discuss terms of surrender—promises were made and reasons were given. This process extended to weeks and months. The defenses were eventually lowered as the negotiations dragged on. Nonetheless, the impasse remained.

One day in the early spring the White Knight’s son wandered outside the castle walls and was promptly captured by the Black Knight’s men. The negotiations took a decidedly personal turn. Fear gripped the castle.

Unexpectedly, the Black Knight returned the White Knight’s son unharmed. Negotiations to end the siege continued, but this relational connection changed the contours of the talks. The White Knight began to see the Black Knight in a new light: less as an enemy and more as a potential collaborator. Eventually the castle gates were opened and a feast was held in honor of the newly-formed partnership.

Most of our discussions about core beliefs are experienced as castles under siege. What will cause us to change frames and open the castle gate?

Most of our discussions about core beliefs are experienced as castles under siege.

Neuroscience tells us a lot about how we negotiate difference. And while self-awareness to our own attitudes over core beliefs can help us lower our defenses and help us to listen, this alone will not cause us to open the castle gate.

Facts work within a frame—but not between them. Frame shifts demand a creative breakthrough that is not enhanced by the piling up of more facts. It is here that the right brain must take over. Relationships, stories, myths, and pictures engage the right brain, which sees things as a whole rather than in parts.

When we fail to acknowledge the manner in which people make decisions, particularly important ones regarding core beliefs, we err. We are not solely rational thinkers. We are lovers and feelers first before we are thinkers. Consequently, our carefully reasoned arguments are generally masks or rationalizations for these hidden, unconscious, and prior factors. So concludes Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind and Jonah Lehrer in Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Neuroscience is confirming Jesus’ observation that “love is the final apologetic.” Since most of our discussions and interactions with people today are with those who operate within a different frame, we would do well to tell a better story than to make a stronger argument, to foster belonging and acceptance before demanding believing and boundaries. Self-awareness will lower the defenses, but only love will open the gates.

The eureka moment happens on terms other than more arguments. New Copernicans, as post-Enlightenment thinkers, are often snarky in their critique of the status quo, but are ready to accept these terms. Thus they look to artists, musicians, and poets before politicians, pundits, and philosophers. We’d do well to follow their lead.

John Seel is a consultant, writer, cultural analyst, and cultural renewal entrepreneur. He is the founder of John Seel Consulting LLC, a social impact consulting firm working with people and projects that foster human flourishing and the common good. The former director of cultural engagement at the John Templeton Foundation, he is a national expert on millennials and the New Copernicans. He has an M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland (College Park). He and his wife, Kathryn, live in Lafayette Hill, PA. He directs the New Copernican Empowerment Dialogues at The Sider Center at Eastern University. This post originally appeared on his blog, New Copernican Conversations.

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