May 18, 2015 filed under Courage, Gifts & Fruits of the Spirit.

businessman with boxing gloves

We have a lot more tools for growing in virtue than our great-grandparents did. One new-fangled tool is knowledge of how brain chemistry can strengthen or derail a virtue like patience. The amygdala (uh-mig-dul-uh) is the “reptilian brain” in the back of our heads. It can save our life when it triggers neurotransmitters that tell us to run for it, smack someone, or find some other way out of danger. That’s great when an alligator is chasing us, but not so useful in a PTA meeting.

I was talking to someone at work the other day and something about the tone of her voice triggered my amygdala. I heard myself respond in an argumentative way, even though we were not disagreeing about anything! The amygdala causes those “Where did that come from?” moments when we go into automatic defense mode.

In her excellent book Conversational Intelligence, Judith E. Glaser suggests many ways to avoid being hijacked by our reptilian brains. For example, we can become aware of what triggers us so we can head off making the uncalled-for snarky comment. Or develop a habit of asking “open-ended questions” to clarify what the other person means rather than assume we’re being attacked. While we’re working on mastering that awareness and practicing new reactions, she suggests the universal fix for an overactive amygdala: a quick, friendly apology!

Post a comment and share how you stay patient and peaceful when it’s tough. Together, we can grow our virtue this week!

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