It shouldn’t be surprising that the survival instinct isn’t subtle. It’s easy to forget that we exist today only because our distant ancestors outcompeted a lot of rivals. Our brain’s automatic judgment mechanisms have kept us alive: when the tiger jumps out of the bushes, it doesn’t matter what’s special or unique about the tiger. What matters is that it’s a tiger. Our lizard brains direct us to run away or to stay and fight — and to do it NOW!
This fundamental duality of humankind has provided fodder for philosophers, theologians, and artists of all stripes down through the ages. In the last decade of the 20thCentury, a scholar by the name of Milton Bennett brought this duality powerfully into the budding field of intercultural communication. One of his most famous essays opens with:
Intercultural sensitivity is not natural. It is not part of our primate past, nor has it characterized most of human history. Cross-cultural contact usually has been accompanied by bloodshed, oppression, or genocide.
Now, early in the 21st Century, we live in a world of immense complexity, coming into contact every day with people who look different from us, talk different from us, dress and act and eat different from us. This is especially true at I-House, as it has been for over 84 years. So we need to be ready for our lizard brains to be activated, and we need to keep asking ourselves how we can work together successfully when the lizard brain holds such power over our thoughts and actions.
Every last one of us is part lizard and part poet. True progress for our species depends on honoring our poet.
 Milton Bennett, “Towards Ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity.” In M. Paige (Ed.) Education for the Intercultural Experience. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1993, pp. 21–71.