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Looking for light and better angels amidst the shadows

I’ve been an early riser since I began my professional life many decades ago. “The early bird gets the worm,” I was taught.

Despite finding no worms, I have discovered peace and quiet before phones ring and people show. I typically arrive these days before daylight, and for many years, was used to a pretty dark entryway. This year, we’ve added some additional lighting for security purposes, which casts a shadow as I start to unlock the door. It’s startling. The first morning, I jumped and turned around, thinking “this is it, a zombie has finally come for me!” I then realized just what the heck had happened … it was my shadow that “croucheth at the door,” to quote Genesis.

Even though I know it in my mind, I still have been jarred more than once at that shadow in the morning since then. Something in our brains has developed over thousands of years to send off warning signals as the dark shadow looms. Was it a sabre tooth tiger? An enemy with a sword? A door-to-door salesman? The thinking part of my brain knows better, but the more primitive, defensive part still kicks in.

A few years ago, an attorney friend shared with me a relatively new theory of legal practice called “Reptilian Law.” In the 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution, authors Don C. Keenan and David Ball advocated persuading jurors by appealing to their “reptile brains,” the “oldest” part of the brain and the part responsible for primitive survival instincts. By alleging outrageous claims, the theory goes, it is appealing to the part of the brain that sees shadows in the morning — and they might be coming for you!

We have just come through a very bruising election, and our evening news was filled with campaign commercials showing dramatic pictures of the bad things that will happen if you vote for X or Y. We’ve heard the question often: “Why do politicians run such negative campaigns?” The answer is always “because it works.” And they will keep running until they don’t work any longer. Those responsible understand the shadows cast by the commercials provide the desired response.

As we look forward to 2021, and consider how we heal as a community, region and nation, just know there will always be shadows crouching at the door, attempting to trigger the responses of defensiveness and fear. It’s the reptile in us.

Fortunately, we also have an evolved part of our brain that lets us rise above it … the “better angels of our nature.” It’s those better angels we see each and every day in our nonprofits, who work tirelessly to make our world better, and our donors, who provide the generosity to make it so.

While there will be those who will continue to appeal to the primitive part deep inside us, just know that the threat that looms to “get” us may just be our own shadow, and the same light that creates such obscurity can also illuminate and brighten if adjusted properly. I see those lights shine in the 58 counties that make up our region, and they help overcome the dark corners of our minds that take us to places we don’t mean to go.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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