Here we are again, leading by example, coming up for air to talk a little more about failure. Like, for example, my failure to keep a straight face yesterday at the reference desk when a patron’s cell phone rang.
Though I’m no Lady GaGa, I’m pretty good with the public service poker face when the occasion warrants. Yesterday, however, I couldn’t remain composed when the cellphone ringing started. You see, Constant Reader, the sound that played at intervals without ceasing was…
…a crowing rooster. Sort of like this, only without the heavy metal riffing in the background.
Put yourself in my place for a moment. In the peace and splendor of a steady, yet quiet, tour of reference desk duty, your composure is marred by
COCK A DOODLE DOO! COCK A DOODLE DOO!
Every 30 seconds. With the patron showing no signs of having heard the sound, or wanting to do anything about it. And you, enforcer of the policy which clearly states that cellphones should be taken out into the hallway, cannot enforce it, becuase you have your head tucked into your hand, suppressing violent giggles. Other patrons are looking at you, waiting for you to take charge of the situation, because you are the arbiter of order. And yet, there you sit, turning purple from suppressed mirth.
Rooster. Ringtone. Professional. Response. Fail.
How my desk partner managed to get through it with a straight face, I’ll never know. Perhaps he’ll consent to giving me lessons in future? Or, perhaps, I should heed my own advice and see what science has to say about outsmarting my brain, so that I, too, can remain calmer in the face of mayhem?
There’s no dearth of recent books ready to help you tame your amygdala. Many of them cite the same scientific sources, so here, pulled at random, is a capsule description of what happens in your brain when the amygdala freaks out:
The Fear Response stimulates the amygdala-hippocampus complex (AHC), your emotional response center and the primitive part of the brain, often called the “lizard brain.” The lizard brain directs the emotions or behaviors that are responsible for survival of the species, such as fear and aggression. The lizard brain also stores the memory of any given negative experience or threat so that you can react even faster to it in the future.
Stimulation of the lizard brain triggers a cascade of events, culminating in the production of hormones and peptides, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that cause physical changes in the body. At the same time, changes occur in the brain that prevent you from doing any complex problem solving–you actually revert to a more primitive being whose main goal is physical self-preservation.
The Love Response, Eva M, Selhub, pg. 5
So, a chemical process that once might have saved you from being saber-toothed tiger chow now has the potential to trip you up by spurring you into fear-driven actions and responses that have the potential to become a negative feedback loop. What’s a librarian to do?
In a word, laugh.
There’s virtually no end to the veritable flood of information out there about the science of laughter. Robert Provine, a key scholar in the field, has generated a great deal of research on the topic, including a lengthy essay in American Scientist. The bottom line appears to be that laughter is adaptive, is good for us, makes us healthier overall. Which means that my giggle-fit “fail” at the reference desk yesterday wasn’t so much a “fail” as it was the best possible response to a fairly ludicrous situation.
That lets me off the hook quite nicely! You, however, may be skeptical. You would be perfectly within your rights to scowl at your screen, cross your arms and say, “Listen girlfiend, you’re not here, and you don’t know.” Your library, you may reckon, is no laughing matter. No amount of snicker-inducing shenanigans could possibly improve your current working conditions, could they?
Well, allow me to retort. In part IV, I will attempt to sidestep the logical part of your brain and appeal to those parts of it that respond best to myth and symbol, via the figure of Abraham Lincoln. And, of course, those pesky vampires.
I’ll try to wrap this up on Friday, but it could drag on until next week. In the meantime, if you have any hilarious cellphone stories, please share in a comment. Aside from the rooster, the best ringtone I’ve heard at the library was the refrain to The Scorpions’ 80s hair-band hit, Rock You Like a Hurricane. Can you top that, Constant Readers?