Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Saturday, November 12, 2022

A page I wish I had read years ago

Thursday October 27, 2022


Recently, I’ve been reading Daniel Goleman’s 2006 book, Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships.

            You’ve probably read one of Goleman’s previous books, Emotional Intelligence. It argued that conventional IQ tests don’t tell the whole story about someone’s capabilities. I remember it mainly for one premise – the ability to defer gratification. 

            You don’t have to have that chocolate bar – or that new suit, hot stock, or red Ferrari – right away. You can wait. Or perhaps decide to do without, entirely.

            Social Intelligence starts with a similar premise – simply being able to control your own reactions isn’t enough. How you relate to someone else depends on two of you, not just yourself. 

            Things go well when your energies connect, synchronize, resonate. Things go badly when they don’t.


A metaphorical map of the brain

            Of course, Goleman’s book overflows with examples. And with sociological studies and experiences. 

            He spends more time than I’m comfortable with exploring the functions of various parts of the brain. I get lost in amygdalae and hippocampi, in cortisols and oxytocins. I’m a pre-frontal cortex person, myself – all those subterranean connections make as much sense to me as the New York sewer system. 

            The mental map that makes most sense to me comes from the evolutionary philosopher and theologian, Michael Dowd. He posits four “brains”. 

            The “lizard brain,” the first consciousness to emerge from the swamp.

            The “small furry mammal” brain, the part that wants to belong and be loved. 

            The “monkey mind” – those undisciplined thoughts that swing from one idea to the next. Creative, but chaotic. 

            And finally what Dowd, an inveterate punster, calls our “higher porpoise” brain. This is the biggest part of the human brain. It enables us to think things through. To assess and evaluate and weigh our options. It looks for purpose and meaning.


Sudden insight

            Goleman would, I think, endorse Dowd’s “higher porpoise” mind. He calls it the “high road” that can control our “low road” instincts.

            Except when it doesn’t. 

            About two-thirds through the book, I ran across a passage that hit me like lightning. Under stress, said Goleman, “the amygdala commandeers the pre-frontal cortex, the brain’s executive center… As our brain hands decision-making over to the ‘low road,’ we lose our ability to think at our best. The ascendant amygdala handicaps our abilities to hold information in working memory, for reacting flexibly and creatively, for focussing attention…”

            Ahah, I thought, that’s what used to happen to my wife Joan. She was smart. She was tough. She ran a department with 40 staff. She handled the sale of one church property and the purchase of another, despite all the impediments that two levels of government could throw at her. 

            But she hated exams. 

            It was a major difference between us. I thrived on exams. My “higher porpoise” mind went into turbocharged overdrive. 

            Hers slipped into neutral. She knew the answers, but they wouldn’t come to her. She couldn’t focus. In Dowd’s terms, her fight-or-flight lizard brain took over. And since the exam context precluded either of those options, her brain took the third option. It froze. 

            I couldn’t understand that. Now I do. When it’s too late. 

            I wish I had read Social Intelligence years ago. 


Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Last week’s column, prompted by the anniversary of Archbishop Ussher’s calculations of the original of creation, was mostly intended to be light-hearted, not serious. 

            Still, I made a mistake. I referred tr the initials BCE as “Before Christian Era. ”Doug Giles corrected me: “I'm not usually a nitpicker but I thought you would like to know this.  BCE means Before the Common Era.”


Eduard H “Your comment that ‘Canada has five and a half time zones’ begs clarification.

            “Canada actually has six distinct and unique time zones, with all but one differentiated from the others by multiples of a full hour difference, save and except Newfoundland and Labrador.”


Isabel Gibson: “It *is* easy to laugh at the Archbishop. I wonder what we [currently] take for granted that will be seen as laughable in 370 years (the distance in time that separates us from Ussher).

            “More, I wonder why we get focused on such minor points, theologically speaking, as the date of Creation. Maybe to divert our attention from what we're supposed to be doing...

            “It's the thing itself (proof-texting Scripture or whatever) that baffles me.  Until I remember it's harder to live by its precepts than it is to play at analyzing them.”


Or, as John Willems wrote, “Sometimes it’s just fun to poke.”




Psalm paraphrase


I’m not including a psalm paraphrase for this weekend, because with my late delivery of this column,  it’s already past this weekend.

            Apparently the printed version of my paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary is now out of print. But you can still order an e-book version of Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of some of the web links.

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)





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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Coleman, Social Intelligence, exams

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