By Russ Osmond
Russ Osmond has a Ph.D. from Syracuse University and is the founder of Change Strategies International in Atlanta. He is a retired USAF chaplain and an internationally published authority on conflict resolution communication.
In my first column (Spring 2015) I showed how our approaches to individual faith are powerfully impacted by how our brains work. I identified four main quadrants of the brain and how they approach a situation or idea. Each of us tends to concentrate on only one of these four quadrants (see Chart 1).
The contextual (yellow) quadrant of the brain asks “Why?” It wants to know the reasons the organization or solution is even needed.
The logical (blue) quadrant asks “What?” It is interested in the structure of a solution or organization.
The action-oriented (green) quadrant asks “How?” It wants to see the way in which the goals of the concept or organization will be achieved.
The emotional (red) quadrant asks “Who?” It is oriented toward relationships and connection.
We are hardwired to believe that our favorite quadrant is the most important, which gives us blind spots and stops us from communicating with others or understanding the validity of their preferred quadrants.
This disconnect often becomes evident when religion is being discussed. It is apparent, for example, that Mormonism is evolving, but most of us, no matter our favorite quadrant, would say that it isn’t evolving fast enough. We are frustrated, however, for different reasons depending on which quadrant appeals to us the most.
- People who favor the contextual quadrant may feel unengaged by what they perceive as the Church’s absence of a compelling vision or direction. They see the institution as being stuck in trying to recreate its past glories.
- People in the logical quadrant may feel that the LDS Church simply lies about its history, its true intent, and its goals. And they can quickly compile evidence to prove their point!
- Those who are in the action-oriented quadrant likely feel frustrated by how much time the LDS Church wastes on things that have limited, if any, value for the bulk of hurting humanity. Why waste time on building malls and fighting gay marriage when people need health care and food?
- Those in the emotional quadrant may argue that the LDS institution seems to be not only intrusive but also callous about human feelings. Witness the cases of lay leaders that determinedly press ahead regardless of the consequences to the struggling individuals around them.
Each of these quadrants has helpful things to add to the conversation. However, if their adherents insist on seeing only their own quadrants, they develop scotoma: a partial loss of vision or a blind spot. They dig themselves deeper into their frustrations, seeking folks with a similar quadrant focus so that they can feel safer or at least understood, closing themselves off from the other quadrants and their strengths.
Following in the footsteps of many general conference talks, I’ll offer three ways to eliminate these scotomas, to open ourselves up to the other three quadrants:
- Become aware of the “I” in faith and belief.
- Understand how you share the age-old assumptions of the Chinese, the Incas, many monotheists, and the Mormons: that you are the center of the universe.
- Redefine how you choose.
FAITH and BELIEF
We tend to see faith and belief as an individual practice—something that is inherently personal. Though faith and belief may start personal, I want to suggest that it needs to expand from there. To achieve this, it is helpful to first see where you usually land in the four quadrants—what you are naturally most passionate about. It is good to understand where your “home” is, but it is equally as important to explore.
Are you attracted to the contextual quadrant? Give the emotional quadrant a try. You will likely see that it helps you understand how to approach the context more effectively: showing you how to care for the individuals involved and how they will likely respond to your ideas. Are you more of an action-oriented person? Give the logical quadrant a try. You will likely see how having a well-structured organization to work through will help your attempts at making the world a better place.
In every case, you will start to understand how each of the quadrants—though very different—is deeply integral to the success of the others. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy exploring these other quadrants—even to the point of developing multiple “homes.”
THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
For thousands of years, the Chinese believed that Beijing was the literal center of the universe, using their observations of the Milky Way to justify their belief. And they were not alone. Pretty much every civilization in the Western Hemisphere has also considered itself and its central city as the center of the universe. Massive paintings in Cuzco, Peru still use the Milky Way to demonstrate why Cuzco is the center of the universe.
In a more spiritual (but sometimes literal) sense, many monotheists (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) treat Jerusalem the same way, which is why there is so much controversy over who owns the Dome of the Rock. But these competitors have only been fighting over who is right for less than 2000 years, unlike the much longer-lived examples above.
And then there is Jackson County, Missouri, usa that for less than 200 years has been thought of as the center of the universe by those in the Restoration tradition, seeding smaller versions of the conflicts over Jerusalem.
These are macrocosms of the difficulties that arise when only one quadrant of the brain is being used—when it becomes the center of the universe. If we took a four-quadrant look at these theories, we would probably avoid a lot of conflict. What would each quadrant have to say about the idea of a single center of the universe, anyway?
A CHOICE, NOT AN ECHO
When Barry Goldwater made this phrase popular in 1964, he said that he was trying to offer Americans a real choice in the presidential election—instead of an echo of previous elections. The phrase is useful a half century later: our choices are the only things we have control over—a situation that started with Adam and Eve. Theirs was a choice that led them out of the Garden of Eden and into lives that had eternal significance.
Our egotistic nature wants us to stick with the “echo” of our favorite brain quadrant. It’s comfortable there, but that quadrant also has its blind spots. As psychologist Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
As an experiment this month, try looking at your faith from a quadrant less familiar to you. I promise you will find some stimulating ideas; your outlook will expand and become more effective. You will spend less time in conflict and more time in construction. Have fun!