Thursday, July 19, 2012

Don't Discount Your Gut!

We learn about the five senses as kids. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

I actually used to teach a workshop for children about the five senses. The big intro involved lighting a candle, and them theatrically blowing it out and taking a big bite out of it at the end. (an apple corer, a sliver of almond, a potato, and a fancy candlestick- not to mention FIRE!- are pretty convincing.) The rest of the class involved "fooling" their senses- adding food color to water or juice and guessing the flavor before smelling and tasting it, for example. 

The English language is a funny thing. We attribute a lot of extra-sensory perception to areas not commonly associated with our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, or fingertips. We call this "following our hearts", or "going with our guts". 

What it basically is- taking the input from your senses, and applying critical thinking skills, and just a dash of "je ne sais quoi", to justify the seemingly inexplicable. Does it feel right? Does it have potential? is it possible? Is it probable? What are the risks involved? Some of those questions can only be answered with the heart, or the gut.

Occasionally, it's referred to as women's intuition. This is interesting. I read a book a few months ago: "The Female Brain." Evidently, the female of the human species is usually better than the male at interpreting facial expressions- and behaving accordingly. Female infants fixate on faces, more than male infants, and female children are much more likely to try to elicit a smile from someone who looks unhappy.

That's kind of amazing, isn't it? It makes sense, however.  If you are typically smaller and weaker than your male counterparts, are you going to benefit from unconscious cues that tell you when an encounter is going to go south? Yes you are. Are those ladies more likely to survive and pass those traits on to the next generation? I think that's likely.

A lot of people (more logical than I) question the validity of anything that can't be measured. My personal experience is difficult to quantify. There are no graphs to show my time and experiences that lead me to extrapolate strange twinges from cues in my environment. The "heart and gut"senses are basically there to try to explain the inexplicable sixth sense that to some extent, we all have.

In the U.S. version of the movie, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", there's a gripping scene between the male protagonist and the villain at the end. The villain invites Mikael Blomquist inside for a drink. Mikael has suspicions that this guy is bad news. But he's so inviting and charming, it would be rude to refuse! So he comes in, and things go badly for Mikael. As Mikael is being imprisoned, the villain gloats that Mikael weighed the pros and cons of going with his gut, against the fear of being considered rude- and the wrong impulse won.  Here's a link to the scene (warning, it is disturbing!)

I am guilty of this too. Obviously, the stakes are usually not as high as in that movie scene! (Thank goodness.) But we get so used to relying on information and hard facts, and obeying social strictures, that we ignore our impulses.  There have been people and situations that I second-guessed my gut feeling about. I would say that nine times out of ten, my gut turns out to be right. As I have gotten older, I place a lot more faith in snap judgements. Part of this is that have a better idea whether this is an impulse I should listen to, or if I am just being ridiculous.

Bear- with his favorite stick.
Once upon a time, I was walking our dog- a Chow/Lab mix, named Bear. That's what he looked like- a powerful, muscular golden bear. He was a jovial, loving soul, not the most intelligent dog, but he made up for it with loyalty and enthusiasm.

It was getting dark, and we were on the way home, when I noticed the man walking toward me on the sidewalk. Something about him made the hair on the back of my neck stand up- I can't pinpoint any visual cue, he was just a "regular guy."

 The man greeted me as he got closer, and Bear went absolutely nuts- barking and snarling, straining at his leash as I fought desperately to keep him from attacking. My first impulse was to be embarrassed- to apologize, and scold Bear- until the man hurried away.  Bear had never done anything like that before- and never did it again. I will never know if Bear sensed my fear, the man's fear, or if he also sensed that something was "off". Probably all three.

I was on Pinterest the other day, and saw a quote that pretty much sums up what I am trying to say. Pithy? Yes. Cute? Yes. Intelligent? Yes. I think "Follow Your Heart- But Take Your Brain With You" is wisdom for the ages. In fact if I ever have a kid, I just may stencil that on their wall.


  1. I've had guys question the gut thing. I can't explain it but overall i think women more than men have something that can tell them when to avoid certain people. Perhaps some sort of self preservation mechanism?

    Love the quote. I might add this to Clover's wall with the other princess quotes.

  2. I am convinced that women have that too. I think we are better at unconsciously reading many levels of body language. It does make sense!