Thursday, June 17, 2010

Left Brain, Right Brain in the Legionaries of Christ

One of the things I have learned during my career is the need to develop synergy between both hemispheres of the brain. In order to be truly effective, we need to use the logical and analytical left side of our brain without neglecting the creative and intuitive right side of the brain.

Most analytical, logical, and rational thought takes place in the left hemisphere, where the tasks for well reasoned arguments take place. That may be the reason most people prefer to hold their phones against their right ear. The right ear connects directly to the left side of the brain - the side that processes language and analytical thought.

In today’s work environment, I find the right side of the brain is not used nearly enough. The right hemisphere is where our brains focus on the big picture. It is where we are creative and intuitive. In order to gain a competitive edge, especially in the realm of international business, we need to be able to draw on the resources of our whole brain – creativity and intuition to find the possible solutions and alternatives to a problem and logical and analytical reasoning to implement the solution.

In the world of organizations and business, the logical thinkers who tend to concentrate on data and details often dominate. In my consulting work, I find many teams where not one team-member is right-brain dominant. In part the reason for this is that the detail oriented logical thinkers find it hard to recruit personalities different to their own. The result of such self-selection is quite predictable – the team gets lost in data, details and processes, struggling to see the big picture.

During my time (see my memoir "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines") with the Legionaries of Christ, I think I was able to develop synergy between both halves of my brain.  My boss, Fr. Marcial Maciel, was a logical thinker who focused on detail. He didn’t spend a lot of energy on feelings – but he always seemed to manage to stay in touch with his intuitive side. He trained us to see the big picture, to seek creative solutions and then focus on process and implementation. Because Legionaries, like so many corporate and organizational types, tended to be data-focused logical thinkers the organization became quite left-brain dominant. From the spiritual point of view, this was not necessarily good in and of itself. The how of getting things done tended to be more important than the why.  As a result, we tended to focus on a rational approach to spirituality with a decided bias towards action. On the positive side, that is one of the reasons we got so much support from powerful business people – we knew how to get things done and we spoke their action oriented language.

Our bias toward action was tempered with an intense dedication to prayer – although our prayer life too tended to be structured and regimented. That approach probably worked best for our dominant personality type. A solid prayer life does help one keep in touch with the creative and intuitive side of the brain. I have since learned that optimism is probably the most important emotional asset in business. There’s nothing like a good prayer life to cultivate optimism.

As part of our prayer life, I would have to include the enormously healing, holistic effect of our Gregorian chant.  The French doctor Alfred Tomatis pioneered research on the neurophysiologic effects of chant on the minds and bodies of its singers and listeners. According to his theory, there are two kinds of sound: "discharge" sounds (those that tire, fatigue and drain the listener) and "charge" sounds (those that give energy and health). According to Dr. Tomatis, Gregorian chant may be the most potent "charge" sound to promote strength and vitality. Unlike other types of music, the rhythm of the chant is based on the breathing of the participants rather than on a mathematically calculated beat. Just try listening to a small amount of it each day, or better still, chanting some of the traditional melodies, and you will quickly notice how calming it is as you get in touch with your intuitive and creative side.

I am thankful that most of us analytical types in the Legion got to spend a balanced amount of time on creativity-enhancing exercises. A solid physical exercise regime helped us manage stress; we all spent a lot of time on writing, metaphysics and brainstorming. We listened to well selected classical music and had ample time for silent meditation.  I think the positive result of all of the above, for me, is that I learned to be in touch with both hemispheres of my brain. As I wrote at the beginning, this is not a skill I come across often in the corporate, technically oriented world I live in.  Did I learn anything in the Legionary approach to education that is useful for oft-maligned creative types? Yes. My creatively inclined confreres got in touch with their logical left-brain processes by playing dominoes and chess, studying scholastic philosophy, developing plans and budgets and adhering to the strict schedules that marked our life in community.

Sometimes I wonder, in the midst of the current controversies about the disgraced founder of the Legionaries, if we appreciate the positive and important lessons many of us learned during our time in the Legion. For many, the negative experiences seem to have overcome and obliterated the positive. That doesn’t seem to have been my experience – and for this I am grateful.

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