Smart people, not smart people—doesn’t matter—the first question we all ask is: “Am I safe or not?”
We may not be conscious of this, but it’s the question that operates in the background—all the time.
The oldest part of our brain—the primitive part—relies on “dualistic language” to make very basic distinctions about whatever we encounter. This ancient part of our brain is simply trying to answer that one question, “Am I safe or not?”
It’s a matter of survival. If “not safe,” then we go into a fight, flight or freeze response. If “safe,” then we relax.
Our modern brains are a more recent development, and I believe this development occurred as a result of our expanded awareness of time. As we became aware of the past and future, not just the present, we needed a new language.
This new language of our modern brains is what I call a “pluralistic” language—a language that is capable of making plural meanings of whatever we encounter. We no longer just see things as “safe” or “not safe,” but we recognize all sorts of possible interpretations and ways of making meaning.
Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist, defined intelligence as “the ability to make finer and finer distinctions.” This means that people who see things as “right” or “wrong” are not as intelligent as people who see a greater number of interpretations. Smart people see more possibilities, which is why they embrace pluralistic language.
Going from dualistic language to pluralistic language may be the greatest development in our evolution.
Yet, when we became more aware of time other things happened as well. We also became aware of our mortality, and we realized that life is full of uncertainties. Because we could time-travel—to the past and the future—we were no longer fully present. As a result of these changes we began to experience a new kind of anxiety.
To reduce our anxiety our modern brains created a novel invention: Identity. This gave us something to hold onto, a sense of continuity in an ever changing world. And if we lightly hold onto our Identities, we will reduce our anxiety.
But when we take ourselves too seriously—which is a risk for smart people—or when we we get too attached to any idea, then we often revert back to the use of dualistic language, framing things as being “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad,” and this stimulates our primitive brains, which results in a fight, flight, or freeze response. This is a primary cause of tension and conflict in our lives.
By learning to use Perception Language—the only non-dual language we know of—we calm our primitive brains and engage our modern brains, opening up all sorts of new possibilities and choices.
The next time you find yourself getting anxious, ask this simple question, “Am I fundamentally safe?” If the answer is “no,” do whatever you need to do to protect yourself. If the answer is, “Yes,” ask yourself a second question, “How would I like to deal with this situation?” This is a question smart people ask. This question will remind you that you have choices. It will stimulate you to consider your options. It will activate your modern brain.
And, remember, your Identity is not your physical body. You do not need to respond to threats to your Identity as if you are in physical danger. Instead, consider that when Nietzsche said, “Whatever does not kill me will make me stronger,” he was talking about his Identity.