Q: Recently I attended your week-long seminar and came away with a much more enthusiastic brain. There were some attendees who ask the most ridiculous (or prejudiced, uninformed, rude, unkind) questions. I was amazed how your brain remained calm and civil. How does it do that?
A: Your question triggers a good laugh. Yes, a thorn in the side of many speakers is the individual who uses a question as a platform to exhibit how much the person “thinks” he or she knows about the subject, has an axe to grind, has a very different opinion and wants everyone to know that, hopes to look superior by making the speaker look foolish, or ad infinitum. Early on in my career when I was asked just such a question, it was tempting to try to turn the tables on the unenlightened questioner. I’m glad I took a different path, and I did that partly on the advice of a brain-function researcher from Stanford University. He reminded me that every brain is unique and only has its own opinion—including brains that are unhealthy, unbalanced, extremely prejudiced, and argumentative. According to this researcher, the speaker’s challenge is to avoid taking anything personally, avoid arguing about that brain’s opinion or belief, decide how long the entire audience is to be subjected to the diatribe, and to learn to move on as graciously as possible.
There are only a few things that I believe the brain can learn to control: your thoughts, your visualizations (what you see in your mind’s eye), what you say, and how you treat others. My goal is to present my brain’s opinion of the research without making anyone else feel stupid, bad, less than, etc. That may not always be the outcome because every brain chooses how to respond, but at least I have made my comments without any put-down intent.
A most egregious incident occurred recently while I was making a presentation at a four-year college. An older individual in the audience said: “I’m sure you will be able to give me references of studies that have proven Caucasian brains innately have a much higher average IQ than non-Caucasian brains.” Initially I was a bit flummoxed (or gob smacked, to use a British expression from my childhood), finding it difficult to believe the individual would make such a comment in the presence of hundreds of brains from other races and cultures.
A professor in the audience later told me that I turned my back to the audience momentarily and when I turned around my response was, “I can’t believe someone would even make such a comment in the 21st century. To my knowledge no such studies exist.” Then I continued my presentation.
I’ve thought about that comment several times since, trying to guess that brain’s underlying reason for making such a statement. I’ll never know for sure, but it may have been triggered from that person’s cellular memory, past personal experiences, or perhaps even from serious self-esteem issues. Sometimes incidents like that cause speakers (myself included) to avoid taking questions from the general audience.