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An authentic desert

Empathy based on emotional access is essential for full self-actualization

It is accepted in neuroscience that creativity and innovation originate in the right or non-dominant hemisphere. Gradually this seed of creativity germinates and at a threshold point, the right hemisphere invites the left hemisphere to engage and inquire about the germinating seedling and thereby create the ‘hardcopy’ for expression. Creativity and innovation don’t appear to originate in the left hemisphere. Consequently the compulsion to create and produce, which are traits of the driven left hemisphere, will leave you staring at a blank page or screen with a serious case of writer’s block, if there is no right hemisphere seedling.

Added to this is the neuro-scientific observation that the activity of the left hemisphere dominates and suppresses the right. Hence a state of driven left hemisphere will tend to snuff out any potential seed-germinating potential of the right hemisphere.

And so it came to pass that I’ve spent much time in my left hemisphere of late – being driven and ambitious sans much right hemisphere germination. But alas the full moon … and a seed was planted. My right hemisphere slowly lurched into action. The seed? Engaging with self-actualization (ala Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), authenticity and self-awareness, in the mature years.

Very few definitions exist insofar as these terms are used. Consequently they’re used pretty loosely. Self-actualization seems to refer to achieving familiarity with self – fears, aspirations, strengths, weaknesses and the like. To be authentic appears to refer to having the courage to live and publicly manifest your ‘natural self’, warts and all, while self-awareness is interpreted as referring to an objective awareness of self. The problem with the latter statement is that one’s own awareness of self can never be objective. It will always be a product of own subjectivity.

Posts published on these very hallowed pages have stated that the sought after state is one of authenticity. It is implied that this authenticity is arrived at through a process of self-evaluation. In this way we attain optimal Maslow self-actualization and with generous helpings of courage, we become authentic beings. My big question at this point is what benefit to self and to others (and to the environment at large) is derived from this space of ‘authenticity’? ‘Authenticity’ in this context is not necessarily a positive or advantageous trait. It merely implies an honesty in recognizing personal strengths and weaknesses and having the courage to putting them out there. It is in fact developing awareness of the greater environment and of self within it, self-awareness, that becomes the most objective ‘mentor’ that we’ll have to move us towards a more universal authenticity, whether we applied it or not, to our subjective authenticity and behavior. The development of awareness and consequently, self-awareness however, is a product of degrees of unbiased perception of and sensitivity to, self and to the greater environment together with an ongoing process of reasoning. This is best illustrated by John the psychopath.

John was a product of severe nurture deprivation and abuse. John’s father was an alcoholic who frequented prostitutes. Not being much of a father, he additionally emotionally and physically abused John’s mother. As a result, John’s mother was not able or available to provide sorely needed nurture. Owing to the erratic nurture and the extreme abuse in the environment, John suppressed his feelings which were too painful to bear – fear, hurt, distrust and a low self-esteem. But with the suppression of pain, John developed a new and dangerous caveat to his belief system – why should he be the only one to suffer. And so he began to derive pleasure from inflicting pain upon insects and then animals.

John matured into an adult. The final narrative incorporated the need to inflict pain on others, mainly on prostitutes, because they had lured his father away from his mother and himself. His feelings and emotions remained effectively suppressed and he consequently had difficulty in forming relationships. To be able to survive in society and maintain his career, John had learned all the required emotions to attain required outcomes. All perceived emotions were merely learned behaviour, a means to an end. His real gratification was derived from engaging and inflicting pain upon prostitutes.

On one occasion at work, John together with his peers were routinely referred to an executive coach. In the eyes of the coach, John appeared to be well adjusted and successful. John fed her everything that he knew would be required to formulate a successful image. He indicated that his nurture period had been tough but that through sheer hard work and determination he had worked through his issues. He indicated that he did tend to be a little over-controlling but that arose out of fear of loss. He also indicated that he previously suffered from a low self-esteem but that with each success he had developed a healthy self-esteem.

The coach concluded that John had effectively worked through his issues and that he was remarkably self-aware and authentic in himself. She suggested that he consider including a value-add to his daily life – to contribute to his environment in making it better than it was before he engaged with it.

Unbeknown to the coach she had now created a monster. John believed that his value-add was to torture and then kill prostitutes. In this way he appeased his gratification needs and rid the world of scum that took fathers away from sons. Additionally he was cleansing the environment of venereal disease. And so it was that an ‘authentic’ monster was created.

Effectively John was a successful coaching client. Since he could not access his core emotions, they were deeply suppressed, he identified from his compensatory behavior that which provided personal gratification. With growing courage and self-esteem he began indulging in ‘purposeful’ activities. With the addition of the value-add component, John was truly authentic to his beliefs. As regards awareness, John was fully aware of his environment and himself within it. He had to be. The awareness had provided him with all that he had required to survive.

The million dollar question of course is how to discern the component which differentiates the subjective authenticity of John the psychopath from a more universal and sustainable authenticity? You guessed it. It’s called empathy. Empathy can only occur when there is open access to our emotions. Once familiar with our emotions we are able to identify those same emotions in others (mirror neuron activity). Awareness based on reasoning content together with emotional appreciation contributes to a more authentic awareness and consequently, self-awareness. Only then are we on track to arrive at a place of self-actualization, bearing in mind that it is the emotional cues which are the critical prompts for re-evaluation and change. Much of this activity occurs in the right hemisphere and in its connections.

Unfortunately we are living in a world which has shifted us into the driven, linear and emotionless space of the left hemisphere. Left hemisphere activity is very effective and appears authentic. It checks all the boxes for coaching success. But it has suppressed right hemisphere subtlety and emotion and dangerously diminished empathy as a consequence. It is giving rise to a generation of authentic emotionless zombies, devoid of creativity and big picture sensitivity.

Copyright reserved – Ian Weinberg 2018

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