Thursday, January 3, 2008

Strippers, brain science and why some of your friends suck.

Strippers, brain science and why some of your friends suck.

During college I briefly hung around with a bunch of bodybuilders. I know, clearly I’m huge now, but years ago I was not the colossus you see in the white t-shirt. I was skinny, nerdy and I’m not sure why they kept me around. Most nights when we went out I felt like that little guy that sits in the crew boat and yells out instructions to the athletes paddling.

The frustrating thing about going out with these guys was that the girls they always attracted at clubs would never have anything to do with me. I knew I wasn’t massive, but I still thought I was a mildly attractive person with at the bare minimum a B+ sense of humor. But weekend after weekend, strippers and a variety of other scantily clad girls at parties would gravitate toward my neckless friends and never say a word to me.

Eventually I grew tired of hanging around with these dinosaurs of men, but that experience taught me a lesson about friends. It wasn’t that I was a complete loser, it was just that my priorities were different than these girls. My sense of what was important didn’t line up with theirs. The best thing about me wasn’t visible to them on the outside. It was hidden deep inside and that meant it would never be seen by people that put so much emphasize on the surface of life. (I should note that not all bodybuilders think that way. I'm sure a lot of bodybuilders are deep and Christian and a lot of other words that will hopefully encourage you not to beat me up. And Heather Veitch is doing some awesome work for the Lord with strippers.)

I think I learned that you attract what you put out. You get back what you give, and since I was not giving out that “the body matters above all else,” I never got the time of day from these girls. The danger in that idea though is that if you hang around long enough with someone you start to rewire your priorities. You start to become like them.

Parents and guidance counselors have long said things like “the company you keep defines who you are” but something I read recently changed the way I looked at the idea. In the book, “Emotionomics,” Dan Hill introduced the concept of “mirror neurons.” According to him and a host of scientists, mirror neurons are “so named because they fire when performing an action or when watching that same action being performed. Mirror neurons help us learn by mimicking others.”

The scary thing is that it happens without us knowing and that it happens faster than the rational part of our brain can compute. As Hill writes, “the slower, thinking system is dominated by the faster, intuitive feeling system.”

Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever repeated the way a friend felt or started doing something that felt totally foreign but in the company of friends it made all the sense of the world? Have you ever done something and then thought, “That made no sense, why did I do that?” Maybe that’s just a fancier description of peer pressure, but the concept that how your friends act can have a neural impact on your brain is a little scary.

I’m not a scientist, I don’t even play one on TV, but I do encourage you to think seriously about the company you keep. There’s more at stake than just picking up a bad habit or two.

p.s. Check out for a fresh look at the Bible and a new post.

p.p.s Special thanks to my foreign readers (Canada, Spain, Singapore, etc.) Shoot me an email sometime at . I would love to hear how you found the site.


Hope said...

I'm going to perhaps have to read this post several times. My head is abuzz. There's definitely something I'm supposed to "get" from this - something that I think I've been waiting for. Thanks.

robyn collins said...

i would agree whole-heartedly with this... having also heard the common phrases that mean this same basic thing...

interestingly, it hits home to me, because over the last several years i have had to distance myself from specific friends because of the way it affected the way i behaved. these were Christians, safe right? NO, not necessarily. in fact, the truths that freed me to make these separations were the admonitions in the Bible not to ABIDE where unholiness abides.

If you find that you are more short tempered with your children after being with another person and their kids - and absorbing their parenting styles - this cannot be honoring to God.

If you find that you are dissatisfied with your spouse after being with a friend that is dissatisfied with their spouse, this does not honor God.

If you find that you want to talk bad about people... the list goes on and on.It is so hard to live a life above reproach, you do not help yourself live a holy life by ABIDING with unholiness...

so- all of that to say, i agree, and watch out for bad mirrors? wait... maybe i'm confused about the science! no... aaaahhhh...

Ben said...

a few notes about this one.
a) I'm just now reading it.
b) In the months between my long time girlfriend and my current wife I went crazy. I hung with strippers and I was the total gym guy. I tried to pack the "college experience" I missed into as short of a time as possible. There is something sureal about going to a strip club, talking taxes with a girl covered in tattoos who is undressing on your lap, then going to her house afterwards to drink apple juice and play cards til 7 in the morning. But that was me. I was "that guy". I actually applied to work at the strip club. For years I so self concsious about myself that when I had the bachelor freedom I decided that I would only care about what was on the ouside. The girls/guys I hung with felt the same way and it was great, until I realized that I was empty inside and finincially I was on a path of living with my parents again and losing almost everything I own. I quickly changed.
c) Depending on the people I'm around I find myself talking like them. When I'm home I have a deep southern accent. When I'm with people that are "urban" I take on that persona. I get all "techie" when at work some times, and when in the presence of "suits", I talk real big. It's all in who I'm around I reckon. I try to curb that, but it doesn't always work.

That's my take!