We all like to think we’re in charge of our own behaviour but that isn’t always the case. The reason is – our brain. Our brain is filled with specialised circuits that do all sorts of things for us. Some of those circuits are called ‘mirror circuits’. The job of mirror circuits is called ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ and they prompt us to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviour in kind. These mirror circuits are located in the limbic cortex, our ‘Caveman Brain’.
Some mirror circuits give us empathy for others – we see someone looking sad and our mirror circuits fire off sadness, so we sort of know how they feel. Or we see someone laughing and happy and we smile and feel happy, too.
Our mirror circuits fire off when someone treats us kindly, too. We want to return that kindness. That’s why being nice spreads around to others, like dropping a little pebble in a puddle – the ripples spread.
And here’s the rub. Our mirror circuits fire off when someone is rude, too. Here’s an example. I don’t know about the drivers where you live but I do know about the drivers in Adelaide. Lots of them are pretty rude. For instance, when you pull over to let someone through on a narrow street or in a car park, 49 out of 50 of them don’t lift a finger to say ‘Thank you’.
On Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, every driver lifts a finger to say ‘Hello’ to everyone they pass, never mind to say ‘Thank you’. So when you drive around Kangaroo Island, it only takes a couple of cars going by and lifting the ‘Hello’ finger before you’re lifting the ‘Hello’ finger too. Mirror circuits. People are friendly and you want to be friendly back.
And in Adelaide, when you’ve pulled over to let another driver through and you don’t get the finger-lift ‘Thank you’, the temptation is after one or two times, not to do the finger-lift ‘Thank you’ to the next driver who pulls over for you. That’s the temptation, thanks to those mirror circuits in our Caveman Brain.
Now of course, you know what’s coming, don’t you. Sometimes, we need to over-ride those mirror circuits so that other people don’t dictate our behaviour when that behaviour is rude or anti-social in some other way. We want to use our ‘Thinking Brain’ to tell our ‘Caveman Brain’ to pull its head in, so to speak. That way, we can be pleasant and polite even when someone else isn’t.
And to my mind, that makes for a better place to live, to shop, to drive and to work. Because giving people ‘the finger’ is catching. So give people the ‘Thank you’ finger and the ‘Hello’ finger every chance you have. Niceness is catching and we all want to live and work in a nice place.