Monday, March 17, 2008

Spitzer and the Triune Brain

ALPHA MALES BEHAVING BADLY is the name of the article by Clarence Day and it begins, "Here's the $4,000 question in the Eliot Spitzer case: Why did he do it?"

The analysis of Spitzer continues. According to "Alpha males behaving badly," by Clarence Page:

"... one of the legions of family therapists who have been called into action by journalists and talk shows in a post- Spitzer surge, told me that the answer boils down simply to this: “It’s in the limbic system.” Eh? That’s the pleasure center in the brain, she said, it handles “motor skills and primitive impulses.” Oh. In other words, the intelligent, angelic part of the brain that tells you, “No, no, this is wrong, you’ll never get away with it,” is completely overwhelmed by the devilish part that says, “C’mon! You can do it! You’re superman. You’re the expert on catching people who do this. You also know how to avoid getting caught!”

(Read the full article here.)

This is how I would explain this sort of thing. The sex impulse is actually in the reptilian) primitive brain - survival instinct. It is basic, an instinct. It is a "meaning-less" reaction. Yes, the limbic brain is about pleasure but it's where parenting, for instance, resides, and emotional bonding. Spitzer's behavior had nothing to do with emotional bonding. In fact, it would more likely endanger his bond with his wife and children. The neocortex is command central, where we go to think things through. It can be considered the crowning achievement of humans, homo sapiens ("sapiens" means thinking); that is, if it used. But again, it must function well in conjunction with the other 2 brains.

Conflicts can often be described by the operations of the 3 brains, the primitive brain being the strongest, of course, because it has to do with survival. I often use the example of a man experiencing lust (primitive), then going 'up' to the limbic, where he cares about his relationships, feels emotions rather than "instincts" and then 'up' further to the neocortex, where he THINKS, and realizes the action could endanger his marriage, career, etc. and, in Spitzer's case, his health and those of others as well. In other words, that it would be a stupid thing to do.

Empathy could also be placed in the limbic brain. Page says the part that would tell him “No, no, this is wrong, you’ll never get away with it,” -- I would add, and it also tells you, "And this would hurt my wife and family, hurt their feelings. The real $4,000 question here is, sadly, how will he ever regain the trust and respect of his wife and daughters.

Like Shakepeare's Othello, and Verdi's Otello, this man's entire life has been impacted - career and personal life. What is is about a man who "has the world at his feet" that makes him bring himself down, pare himself down to the human scale?

See my video on Otello"

So why do intelligent people do such stupid things? That's a large part of why the field of emotional intelligence developed. We see it often, and Spitzer is a prime example. Obviously the man's got a high IQ. But where is his EQ (emotional intelligence quotient)?

There is reptilian "pleasure"*, and also limbic (the extreme, enduring pleasure we get with our children and friends; our emotional connection to others), and also neocortex (for some of us, thinking philosophical thoughts, or analyzing someone's behavior :-) or solving a problem, are as pleasurable as it gets. And the neocortex is what separates us from the animals. We share the limbic brain with mammals.

It is a shame when we see our "alpha males" fail. It's a shame when we see anyone falter, but the "alpha male" does it in public. It is in the public eyes. Children can't help but hear or see about it. It seems such a waste, and, like the death of a parent reminds us of our immortality, their flaws, poor judgment and irresponsibility remind us of our own.

There is also the concept of noblesse oblige ... that we expect more from our leaders and high-up officials. It is one thing when your neighbor down the street does something like this. Quite another when it's a president, to take the Clinton example a la Day's article.

Why would Clinton do what he did, in the presidential position he was in? Why did Spitzer?

We are always interested in the WHY, because that's how we learn. If you'd like to learn more about the WHYs of life, I invite you to take THE EQ COURSE. With or without accompanying personal coaching, it is an enlightening experience. It's about the interface among the brains, how our brain and emotions work, and how to make your life work better -- and ultimately our health. We all have, and must deal with three "brains." The better we manage this juggling act, the better our chances for enduring success and happiness.

*Pleasure? A district attorney, accused of exposing himself to a 16 year old girl, told the judge: "I was under a lot of stress. It was tension release."

Niun mi tema (from Verdi's Otello) - no one need fear me any more

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