It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Knee-deep in Guts

We have in our skulls “two minds working semi-independently of each other”, one a thinker, one a reactor. System One and System Two, or, for convenience, “Head” and “Gut”.

So claims Dan Gardner in his book RISK: The Science and Politics of Fear, which I received for my birthday. Given how I feel about risk and risk-taking, I expect to thoroughly enjoy this book.

“Head” and “Gut” got me thinking — about my job, of course. We all start out 100% gut. Newborn infants have no Head yet; they are pre-rational. Everything they do is done by instinct and reaction. There is no considered response. This is as it should be, instinct (and that piercing wail!) helping this helpless little critter survive into the next hour, the next day.

Gut is essential for survival. It tells us what’s a danger, it tells us what to avoid, it drives us to seek out what we need. And it does this fast. When in the path of a speeding car, you don’t need to know the make, year, or its likely carbon footprint. You need to take instant action. Your Gut response to something is instantaneous. Reasoned? Not at all. Effective? Very. We all start out as completely Gut, and we never lose it, because we need it.

Eventually, however, Head starts to become a player, too. Head, however, is much slower than Gut, so it takes some experience and maturity to apply it. Eventually we learn (or should!) to take advantage of what Stephen Covey neatly calls that small space between stimulus and response, and respond rather than merely react.

Well. I hope we do. For my part, at its most basic, my profession comes down to the ongoing task of attempting to install some Head-response into the seething mass of little Gut-people who fill my home daily.

A toddler is frustrated. He shrieks. Or throws something. Or wallops someone. Because Gut is fast. Then I intervene, with Head admonitions to “use your words”, “hands are for hugging”, because what I am attempting to do is to have these children pause before reacting, to teach them how to respond out of Head instead of, or in addition to, Gut.

It’s an interesting perspective on my job. And now, I must go. There are raised voices, and I think some Gut is about to bust out over there. This Head needs to intervene.

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February 17, 2009 - Posted by | aggression, books, Canada, health and safety, power struggle, socializing | , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Love your last two sentences!

    I’m fascinated by the book’s ideas. I’m very much a Head, and sometimes I think I need to trust my Gut a little more. But mostly, yes, we need to learn to pause and use our heads.

    Comment by Alison @ hairlinefracture | February 18, 2009 | Reply


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