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Brain Dialogues #3: Helping

My brain has some interesting ideas about what is helpful.



Brain: Ahem! Excuse me!


Me: Hi Brain! What’s up?


Brain: Well, I’ve been thinking that in light of the global, pandemic, the election, the melting of the arctic and, you know, basically world destruction, we should really revisit some of our recent conversations.


Me: Ah. I thought you might be thinking that. So which conversations did you have in mind?


Brain: I took the liberty of preparing a list. Let’s see. [rustles papers] Do you recall our ongoing debate last year about whether or not you are the worst, and more specifically extremely socially backward?


Me: I definitely do.


Brain: At the time I accepted your argument that you aren’t in fact the worst, but I think we can both agree that this needs revisiting, given everything that’s happening. If we don't keep an eye on our terribleness when everything is falling apart, then I really don't see how we can protect ourselves.


Me: I see. Go on.


Brain: There was also the matter of the arrangement we had regarding all those things you want to do every day.


Me: Yes?


Brain: As you may recall, in the old arrangement, your job was to make the list and do the things, whereas my job was to yell at you for not having done them yet. Or if you did do them, I was then to yell at you for not making a longer list, or not getting through it more quickly.


Me: Oh, I remember. Fun times.


Brain: Well, obviously, the new approach you persuaded me to try, where I mostly sit quietly unless I have a useful suggestion too offer while you proceed through the list—well, clearly that is entirely too lax in a situation of global catastrophe. We should immediately return to the old yelling/doing division of labor.


Me: OK Brain, I get the picture. So here’s the thing.


Brain: Yes?


Me: Lots of things are upsetting right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and some of our routines have been disrupted, which can be very unsettling for you.


Brain: It really is. I never thought I’d say this, but I even miss that gym place you used to insist we keep visiting.


Me: So that all means it’s a bit scary sometimes. And you know what you like to do when you get scared?


Brain: What?


Me: What’s familiar. Remember how we learned about those neural pathways we build when we think the same stuff over and over, like making a path through the forest?


Brain: Yes.


Me: Well, in the last couple of years or so, we’ve been getting off those familiar pathways, right? We’ve been exploring the forest and finding cool new routes to places we didn’t even know we could go! And although that was scary sometimes, I think you kind of enjoyed it too.


Brain: It was rather exhilarating at times, I must admit.


Me: Well right now, everything seems really dire, and you have this idea that the best thing to do is get out of the uncharted forest and back onto those old paths as fast as possible.


Brain: Yes! That is exactly what I’ve been saying. If I don’t tell you all terrible things about yourself and yell at you to do more, how will we survive? We definitely need to see how bad we are so we can do more stuff and be OK. Because nothing is OK right now!


Me: I know that’s how it seems. But Brain, those thoughts were never what helped us survive or be OK.


Brain: They weren’t?


Me: No. It was those other thoughts that you tend to forget about, even though you came up with them. Like, we never, ever, ever give up on ourselves, no matter what. We are on this earth to develop and share our gifts. We know how to love and feel loved. We can do hard things. We are stronger than we know.


Brain: Oh, those are marvelous! And you say I created them?


Me: You totally did.


Brain: Those do seem like they could be particularly useful at the moment, don’t they? [thoughtful pause] Well, you’ve certainly given me a lot to consider. You know, it’s rather odd how what I think is helpful is so rarely helpful. I wonder why that is.


Me: I don’t know either, but it’s OK. I like that you’re a bit of a mystery. It’s part of your charm.


Brain: I’m glad you think so, because I’m got some rather inexplicable dreams on the agenda for tonight.


Me: Excellent. I can’t wait.