I was dealing with an iceberg yesterday. The iceberg in this instance was a story twist; I could see the tip but not the vast majority of it.

That’s what causes writing to be fun and challenging for me. I like seeing the tip of teh story and the concept and then imagining and writing to find the hidden depths.

people and then imagining what’s unseen underneath, discovering bravery and cowardice, honesty and betrayal under that tip.

The same is true with those characters. I often see and begin with the tip. Writing the story reveals the rest of the character’s iceberg. While I begin with a general idea of the character’s traits and their role, more becomes revealed as the story’s icebergs are explored.

Walking yesterday, and watching drivers making errors, I thought about how much we as people are ice bergs. I saw drivers making bone-headed errors in judgement. I had to remind myself that that was just the tip, and it wasn’t a matter of awareness, intelligence, or ignorance, that broad labels that I often misapply. I don’t know what mental, physical, and emotional issues are attacking them, what problems that they’re dealing with through meds, thought, or by fleeing. They might be driving, but we don’t know what’s happening in their brains and bodies.

Most of us are the same kind of icebergs on the outside, a typical bi-ped. Despite commonalities between us, like a body, two eyes and ears, and a head, things are different inside. Inside that head is a brain, and in that body are organs. Lots of chemicals are being produced and are being employed via neurons and neuro-transmitters and receivers.

It all doesn’t work the same, right? Have you seen any of the studies about the right amygdala and its size and activity in people who tend toward being conservative in their political views? Their right amygdala is larger and often more active. They tend to be more fearful, and tend to dislike change.

That doesn’t mean they’re cowards. Being fearful and being a coward aren’t the same.

The study also found that the amygdala’s activity could be shifted, and that shift affected people’s outlook. It all began with the observation that the United States became more politically conservative after the attacks of 9/11. A Business Insider article by Hilary Brueck best states it:

“The hypothesis social scientists developed about this effect is perhaps best summed up in a 2003 review of research on the subject: “People embrace political conservatism (at least in part) because it serves to reduce fear, anxiety, and uncertainty; to avoid change, disruption, and ambiguity; and to explain, order, and justify inequality among groups and individuals,” it said.”

A Yale psychologist, John Bargh, wrote about it in a new book, Before We Know It: The Unconscious Reasons We Do What We Do. Bargh explores how our brain’s responses affect our political views, and how that can be changed. For example, in one experiment, after a baseline about political views was established, an exercise was conducted. In the exercise, everyone was told to imagine they were like Superman. Bullets bounced off them. Fire couldn’t hurt them. They’d survive falls off a cliff without injury, and they could fly.

That exercise caused a dramatic change among conservatives and their responses, but no change among liberals. The exercise enabled conservatives to feel safer and less fearful, which triggered more compassionate and optimistic responses in their political views. They became more open to change, and more hopeful.

It’s something that we should keep in mind as we drive around and encounter one another. It’s not always about facts and logic, intelligence and awareness. We’re all icebergs, and what we see is only the tip.

It’s also something to keep in mind as we write about our characters and their motivations and actions.

Time to write like crazy and explore my icebergs, at least one more time.


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