Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Zebra envy

It's not uncommon to see teachers  huddled like zebras under attack, passionately attacking CT's new teacher evaluation system. I've been one of them. But it makes me think about the the way that fear hinders us--how it stops us from growing.

Zebras don't get ulcers, at least according to Robert Sapolsky, and here's why: Because they don't fear the lion until they scent her, hear her or see her.

People get ulcers--they experience chronic stress, because our big frontal lobes extend our sight into the distant future, and we see countless lions-that-could be lurking in the grass of the future.

And it's worse than that. There are no lions. The disapproval of our peers turns into a life threatening predator in our subconscious, and failure at work or school is a lion in our minds. The possibility of a bad rating on a teacher evaluation rubric taps into our primal fight-or-flight response, and we respond as if a cheetah were on our tail.

I've been in a few potentially life-threatening circumstances, but none of them had to do with rubrics. I've displeased some people, and failed lots of times, and it's never really warranted the stress it caused me.

Fear is usually a sham--a glitch in the system caused by this combination of the threat-detection system we inherited from our pre-primate ancestors. Unfortunately this is a big glitch, because fear makes us huddle, hide, tense up, shrink back, and bare our teeth, when we should open up and move forward. We end up with missed opportunities, stagnant lives, organizations, and relationships, hostility of all kinds, and who knows what else.

Sometimes I wish I were a zebra. Then I could just enjoy the grass and the breeze and the sunshine until there really was a lion. Of course, then I wouldn't be able to write this blog post or contemplate the mystery of existence either. I guess I'll stick with the cerebral cortex and just learn to see fear for what it usually is: a figment of my imagination, and watch it float by like a dark cloud on the sky of my mind. Then I'll allow myself to be open to new perspectives, open to criticism and improvement, open to change and challenge, open to whatever life has in store.

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