Building Better, Kinder Brains - The Scapegoating Pandemic Series
From The Caring Heart with Dr. Joyce from Spokane Washington

“Therefore I speak to them in parables because they see seeing not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.”  (Matt. 13:13)

“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt. 13:16)

In pondering the meaning of the above Bible verses, it seems that what Jesus meant is that there are people whose sense organs – eyes and ears – are working ok, but that they don’t have insight, or understanding of the messages being conveyed to them.  The deeper meaning is simply lost to them.  Jesus called people blessed who do understand, at a deeper level, the messages their eyes and ears are receiving.  So, it appears that Jesus was saying that some peoples’ brains are much more able to process incoming information than other peoples’ brains are.  WHY IS THAT SO?

For our purposes here, that of desperately wanting cessation of animal cruelty (and cruelty to everyone else, too) the crucial brain areas involved are those that bring forth thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are EMPATHETIC.  Oh, how cold heartedness needs to be done away with!  Empathy means feeling “with” someone else. It means being conscious of, being aware of, having a “picture” in one’s mind of someone else’s state of being.  If they are hurting, the empathetic person accurately feels their hurt along with them.  Feeling empathy leads to having compassion, or feeling sorry for them in their plight.  Compassion should lead to positive action, if that is possible. The compassionate person yearns to do something that will really help, even if that is not convenient in terms of his or her time and energy.  One thing, for sure, the empathetic, compassionate, helping person’s brain parts are in good working order in those areas. 

Other peoples’ brain parts in those areas, such as psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, confirmed scapegoaters, and other hard-hearted, destructive types do not seem to be working well at all.  Because of the invaluable information obtained now days from fMRIs, PET scans, CAT scans, and so forth, researchers can see exactly which neurons (brain cells) are firing in live brains, human and animal.  What they have found is that in individuals who do not evidence empathy, little or no firing is occurring between certain emotional brain centers and the higher thought processing areas in the front of the forehead.  The circuits for empathy may not have developed in the first place, and maybe never will (except for Divine intervention). 

There are critical periods in brain development, in which, if development does not normally take place, it never will.  For instance, if a kitten has one eye taped shut, so that it never opens up to see anything, and then if the tape is taken off months later, the kitten will never see out of that eye.  The eye itself seems fine, but the brain parts that make vision possible in that eye did not develop, and never will.  The critical period is over for that poor kitten (I hate that kind of research).  There are also sensitive periods in brain development, where learning a skill is vastly easier than later on.  For example, young children can learn two or more languages vastly easier and quicker than if they waited until they were older.  As long as we are living in our earthly physical bodies, what we can do and think is totally dependent upon our brains’ functioning.  Even spiritual awareness passes through our brains.  That’s how God created us.  I guarantee you, if a person has had his or her speech center in the brain destroyed, the person will not be able to speak.  Period!

How well and completely brains develop depends on many factors.  Genetics is one factor, as well as nutrition in the womb and on through the years.  Trauma is a huge factor, such as can happen because of disease and accidents, but also because of the environment, in the womb and especially during the first three years, which is the time of maximal brain development for anyone.  Having parents who do NOT meet the youngsters needs in a warm, empathetic way and who provide a cold, stress-filled environment set the stage for the youngster’s feeling rage inside, and then building internal walls around his feelings to minimize the constant hurt he or she lives with.  Voila!  Another hard-hearted one is fostered!  I spoke with a licensed psychologist interviewing inmates on Alcatraz’ death row.  She said all the men she interviewed had experienced horrific upbringings.

Also, and extremely importantly for the child’s ability to experience genuine empathy throughout life, the child needs caregivers to spend quality time over zillions of times connected with the child’s state, needs, and communications and reflecting all that back to the child in reciprocal communication, eye contact. and handling.  Only through sensitive attunement can the child’s brain build the neural connections to know a mental picture of his own mind.  When the child can know, or be aware of his or her own internal mind’s functioning, THEN the child has the capacity to be authentically aware of someone else’ internal mind’s functioning – to empathize. 

Empathy is a very sophisticated mental ability dependent upon countless neural connections, which take years to fully develop.  Without full, healthy development, the child CANNOT empathize. It has no meaning.  The child’s brain “draws a blank.”  

So, all that I have put forth above explains “the dark side.”  What is “the bright side?”  How can we get brains where people can see and hear AND understand, as Jesus blesses?  How can we foster the growth of better, kinder brains?  Medical professionals and scientific researchers have discovered what was NOT known in former years.  THE BRAIN IS PLASTIC AND CAN KEEP GROWING THROUGHOUT LIFE AND REPAIR ITSELF A LOT.  Astounding!  We can promote empathy, compassion, and help for suffering others by the kind of relating we engage in, continuing to practice to become better and better at it.  Patricia Evans, author and clinician, describes the good, nurturing kind of relationship as one of mutuality and cooperation, rather than power over.  Here is her list of the qualities of the good relating.  “Respect, acknowledgement, dignity, esteem, appreciation, warmth, empathy, shared sentiments, kind words, accurate information, open communication, attentiveness, caring, and equality” (Evans p. 38). 

-         To bring one’s thoughts and to hear the other’s.

-         To express one’s enthusiasm and to delight in the other’s.

-         To reveal one’s self and to reflect the other.

-         To value one’s self and to esteem the other.

-         To enjoy one’s creations and to treasure the other’s.

-         To pursue one’s growth and to nurture the other’s.

-         To follow one’s interests and to encourage the other’s.

-         To act at one’s pace and to accept the other’s.

-         To indulge one’s self and to give to the other.

-         To involve one’s self and to assist the other.

-         To protect one’s self and to comfort the other.

-         To be one’s self and to let the other be.

-         To love one’s self and to love the other.  (Evans, p. 37).

Two people relating in the above manner are true partners in life.  They are really connected.  They are faithful to nurture one another and really value their relationship, 

Daniel J. Siegel, MD, researcher, clinician, and author, teaches “mindfulness,” in which the mind becomes able to become aware of its own thinking. It means nonjudgmentally and non-reactively paying attention to the present moment.  One becomes “attuned,” or “in tune with” one’s self like a best friend.  Siegel maintains that the more a person is in tune with himself, and self-aware, the more the person can be in tune, or “attuned” with someone else, in a great harmony.

The practice of mindfulness has caused prefrontal brain lobe fibers to grow to bring their brains into full, balanced functioning. 

Getting back to the need for empathy in humans, what Siegel has noticed is that the more his clients are capable of mindfulness, and the more their relationships come into real harmony, the more the clients spontaneously start thinking about and having concerns about matters OUTSIDE themselves.  They start showing more and more empathy.  To me, this is really exciting and hopeful!!  Physical health gets better, too, as nurturing relationships mitigate stress.  All systems come into better balance.  Kindness flourishes.

I want to look into Siegel’s research a lot more.  What you and I can do to foster greater empathy and compassion in our world is to regularly connect with and nurture those close to us.  Everyone benefits – the humans and, in the end, the animals.  Incidentally, quality, connected relationships are the best to have with our companion animals also.  I try very hard to “listen to” and respond sensitively to what my animal family is communicating. 




UNDERSTAND.  We can be good role models for others, and help the animals more in the end.

“Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life.”  - Isaac Bashevis Singer


Evans, Patricia.  The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How To Recognize it And How To Respond.  Adams Media Corporation (Holbrook, Mass. 1996)

Siegel, Daniel J. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.  Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks (New York 2011)

COPYRIGHT 2015 Dr, Joyce The Caring Heart

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