Just Act Normal!

I used to be a big Garfield fan as a kid. Out of the countless hours I spent reading every Garfield book I could get my hands on, this comic stands out clearly in my mind over a decade later.

Jon says, “Tell me, Garfield, when you walk, do your right and left legs travel together, or do you use your opposing legs?”

Garfield looks down at his own legs, eyes widening with revelation. He thinks, “I’ll never walk again.”

Isn’t it a remarkable paradox that the subconscious brain can do certain things flawlessly – until the conscious brain steps in? You can do it, as long as you don’t know you’re doing it. Effort makes you fail.

The same thing happens when a nurse is taking your pulse, or doing any other routine check, and tells you to “breathe normally.” How the hell do you breathe normally once you’re thinking about it? That’s a task for the lizard brain, not the human brain.

This comes up in other, more important ways too.

I live in a small town. It’s a nice place, with nice people, ideal in a lot of ways. But it’s not very, um, diverse. We have white Protestant Republicans and white Catholic Republicans, and for the most part, that’s about as deep as the differences go. And if you look at the particular part of town where I live and work, people are all pretty much in the same economic bracket too.

So when I run into someone different – race, background, whatever – something bizarre and rather silly happens.

The lizard brain points out, with no particular interest, that this person is different from me. Immediately the so-called “higher” brain functions take over, supplying all sorts of useful information, like “You may be unconsciously biased toward this person and not even realize it,” and “You should really try to fight any subconscious bias you may have,” and, most helpfully of all, “Just act normal!”

Thanks, brain. Appreciate that.

The result of trying to be cool is that I’m a little stiff, a little weird, a little formal. That’s what I get for thinking.

Does anybody else’s brain pull these kinds of antics?

8 responses to “Just Act Normal!

  1. This is the main argument against companies continually conducting diversity training for employees. If it’s constantly pounded into your head, “Be careful, dont say this..”, “dont offend..”, “make sure to be inclusive”, etc etc.. it ends up having the opposite effect because of all the reasons you mention. All the training makes you instantly aware of the differences between the people you meet, instead of just being yourself.

  2. To tell the truth, I’m not sure. My observation skills rank -3 on a scale of 1-10, so I’m not sure how well I do while thinking or not thinking about something. It just sort of happens.
    Luckily for me, Whenever I look at someone I don’t think at all about if they’re different from me. I come up with an immediate ‘friend,’ ‘aquaintance,’ or ‘enemy’ status. Interestingly enough if someone doesn’t fall into one of those categoris I don’t tend to notice them at all.

  3. This completely happens to me. All the time. I suffer from insomnia, and one of the worst pieces of advice I was ever given was to “lie still and focus on breathing slowly and gently in and out until you fall asleep”. Yeah, I tried that and hyperventilated. How in the world do you relax if you’re focusing on breathing??

    Also, the “just act normal” reflex turns me into a complete idiot when faced with a celebrity or quasi-celebrity. Or a friend of a friend that I really want to impress. Or my boss’s boss. Or, in fact, anyone that I really don’t want to look like an idiot in front of.

    My life is made of fail. But only when I think about it.

    • “My life is made of fail. But only when I think about it.” Hahaha…that literally made me laugh out loud. šŸ™‚

      But yeah, God help me if I ever meet a celebrity. I’ve already done all these calculations in my head in advance, trying to think of what I could say that they haven’t heard before. Needless to say, I remain unprepared.

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