Richie, Partner, Richard Davidson discussed on On Being
Thank you so much superintendent Mahara. I so appreciate it and respected the way this invitation was framed in the way, you've framed this gathering about love, kindness and education strangely. Three words. We don't often see together, right? It's a little bit counter cultural, and there was language in there about restoring the richness and meaning of love and the role that it plays in education. Now, Richard Davidson who and we've known each other across the years, we we did a previous interview in two thousand eleven and he goes by Richie. And so I'm gonna column Richie today. And he was one of the people who contributed to really the discovery of the science of neuro plasticity, which I think is one of the most exciting discoveries of my lifetime. This idea that our brains. You know, I think when I grew up when many of us grew up you had this idea that our brain stop forming at some point when you're eighteen or twenty one, and it turns out that our brands form and can change across the life span, which I think is as wonderful news for somebody in their fifties. As in their twenties. What we practice we become and then we can change our brains are behavior. So we'll we'll get into that. And and Richie. I wanna ask you just before we start because I like to ground things and the personal in personal history. If you think about the words, love, kindness and education. Did you have an experience of love and kindness in education, or how would you identify that in your earliest life in your childhood? Yeah. Well, let me just first say before we answer the question. It's just a delight to be here with you. I've been interviewed by so many people in my life. No one too. I enjoy being injured more than Krista. So it's really a pleasure, love, kindness and education. Is you say have I've not heard those words put together before and it's refreshing, and it's a testament to your visionary stance here in Orange County that you have chosen to Melbourne together in my own life. I actually went to a Jewish day school for the. The first eight years of my life actually, nine including kindergarten and for the most part except for I'd say one teacher who I remember, very distinctly. I don't have a sense of love and kindness at all in one of the things that's made me so passionate about education is my own kids education for my son was was really difficult, and it sensitized me to the critical importance of bringing love and kindness into the classroom in a way that honored the differences in variations among us, which is so prevalent when we actually opened our eyes and look. I think it's worth spending just a little bit of time kind of understanding where we came from on this because you know, until not that long. I'm in the nineteen sixties would have been kind of it was the heyday of behavior ISM you've said to me once you know, the environment was emphasized so heavily. There is no attention to the mind. No attention to biology like what was going on inside the child was just not that relevant. And I feel like you are right in on the front lines on this new frontier of science that is helping us understand how and why this kind of intelligence kind of learning is as important and relevant as are other kinds of intelligence and learning so. I was reading about that. What neuroscientists speculating is that brain circuits that are important that interact with for social and emotional learning interact with brain circuits that are important for cognitive learning. Absolutely one of the really important insights that is packed in. That statement is that the brain does not honor the kind of anachronism distinction between thought and feeling fought and feeling are absolutely intermingled in the brain. And so there are no areas of the brain that are exclusively dedicated to one and not the other. There's a lot of interconnectivity. And so when you are when a child, for example is subjected to adversity and the adversity gets under the skin it will. Impair cognitive function. In addition to producing emotional difficulties. And so these are inter intimately interwoven in the brain. Is it? I think so much also about how the twentieth century. I mean, we wanted to think we could bracket emotion out, you know, out of schools out of workplaces out of politics and we failed biology. Right. I mean, it's kind of the way we wish the world were because it would be neater and cleaner and less messy if emotion and intellect worn intertwined that there it is there it is. Yeah. And you know. There's a very famous psychologist to did work on decision making. And he actually got a Nobel prize in economics. His name was herb Simon. He and he worked in the in the nineteen sixties and seventies. In the way. He thought about emotion is that it was an interrupt. There're it disrupted cognitive function. And and we know now that when we think about the really complex decisions in our lives. So for example, if we think about whether we're going to partner with a certain partner or get married to a certain partner. That's the kind of decision that we cannot make based on a cold cognitive calculus. We consult their emotions for making that decision. And if our emotions were disrupted, it will really impair our capacity to make those kinds of decisions. And so this is led to the insight that emotions actually play a really key role. They can be both facilitating of our behavior and cognitive activity. And they can also be disruptor. So it can go both ways it's not one way or the other. But they're an intimate part of everything that we do. And I think that this must be flowing into. Another Californian dominance doing some wonderful work with understanding trauma as a public health issue. And again, this way we've punished behavior. In classrooms, and understanding that another way to think about it is to actually address that child as a person and help them learn to calm themselves and manage their behavior rather than just treating them as a disciplinary or scholarly problem. Yeah. Well, I think that's that's really such an important issue. And how we address those kinds of difficulties and the way teachers respond to those kind of difficulties will have an enormous impact on the brain on their expression. And you know, one of the things I often say is that the very mechanisms in the brain that allow adversity to get onto the skin are also the mechanisms that. Enable awakening. They're the same mechanisms. And so we can harness this power of neuro plasticity for the good. Bye. Cultivating certain kinds of virtuous qualities but neuro plasticity in and of itself is neutral. So you believe have taken these ideas into school settings. And you've actually asked the question can we, cultivate, compassion? And have you found I remember you saying to me years ago that you believe that we are hard wired to learn compassion. As we are hardwired to learn language has that burn itself out. Yeah, I'm happy. You remember that? It's I think the evidence today is even stronger than it was when we spoke about it last. But the reason I like Anne into language is that we also know that we come into the world with a biological propensity from language, but it requires that we be nurtured in normal linguistic community for that propensity to be expressed. And there are case studies of feral children who've been raised in the wild. They don't develop normal Anchorage. And so even though there's a biological propensity. It requires this context of the appropriate context to nurture. And I think the same is true for kindness. I think we come into the world with his innate propensity. But for this propensity to be expressed it requires nurturing, right? Yeah. Because we we don't we don't actually learn language. I mean, yes, there's an aspect of being taught language, but it's more just that people. Do it around us. Yeah. And so if we're in a context where people are doing kindness around us, we will as modestly absorb it. And it will be nurtured. And I mean that that then has implications for if this is brought into a classroom, and that it that it is also about. The teachers really embodying this not not just it's not just a lesson plan will and that's really one of the powerful things. Teachers change, students brains. When teachers interact with students, they're changing the brains of their students and not just functionally, but actually structurally, and this is not a radical statement because we're changing each other's brains. All the time we know that this occurs in a relationship between a parent and their offspring it occurs in any kind of sustained interpersonal interaction. So so I wanna hear I do want you to tell us about the the work you've been doing it with children in classrooms about teaching this. I want to say this reminds me of when. I think it was actually, Sylvia. Burstein wonderful Jewish Buddhist teacher who said to me. You know, your children really aren't listening to what you say. They're actually just watching what you do. And. That's kind of depressing. Right. That's the hard. It's easier and harder. But on the other hand what it does is it it gave me permission to say. Well, me investing in my spiritual health in my how I'm changing my brain what I'm practicing towards a character is not time or energy. I'm taking away from my children, but giving to them, and it's I guess it's the same kind of. Absolutely. And I think that kind of implicit learning that occurs. It's really implicit social learning that occurs through embodied practice taking on these kinds of characteristics.