Neurologists tell us that we make judgments about people, categorizing them as friend or foe, in .07 seconds.
Allyson Felix knows what .07 seconds feels like. It was the difference between the gold and silver medals in women’s 400m final during the 2016 Summer Olympics. As Felix approached the line to win fifth gold medal, her opponent Shaunae Miller gained ground. As the two crossed the finish line, Miller dove head first while Felix crossed left foot first. The photo finish confirmed the result. Miller crossed the finish line .07 seconds before Felix to win the gold.
Every day, we know what .07 seconds feels like as well. In that split second, either cortisol or oxytocin are pumped into our systems. When we judge a person a foe, the distrust triggers the amygdala to secrete this fear hormone into our system causing us to react in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. The hormone remains in our systems for 26 hours causing us to ruminate about the experience with that person.
On the other hand, when we judge the person in question a friend, our neocortex is activated causing oxytocin, what scientists call, the “cuddle hormone”, to be released into our systems. And not only is oxytocin secreted into our system, but dopamine and serotonin are as well causing us to feel good and connected with others.
With each interaction, we have a momentary choice to move us closer or away from others and as a consequence improve our overall sense of well being.
When you are in a situation with someone you immediately feel distrustful and a potential conflict arising, pause. Take a deep breath. Seek first to understand. When you pause to listen for deeper understanding first before moving forward with your point of view, you short circuit your brain’s protective reaction of fight or flight and you engage your brain in a powerful, grace-filled way.
This is what Paul encouraged Philemon to do, to see Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave as friend and not foe. At one point, Paul reminds his friend Philemon that he once regarded Onesimus as useless. Now, Paul writes, he was to treat him “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (v16).
This is precisely the way God treats us. “I no longer call you servants,” Jesus tells us, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…” (John 15:15). God does not treat us according to our sins and mete out punishment accordingly. We are not in an adversarial relationship with God. Instead, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are given new life, a new relationship, and a constant love that never ends. We are called to do the same.
Don't avoid conflict or unpleasant people. Engage and find a way to connect.