Mirror Neurons and Role Models

ice cream coneBy: Alex Blackwell, Student Ministry Pastor

I’ve been fascinated lately with mirror neurons. I was having a conversation a couple months ago with a group of parents. This is when I learned about mirror neurons. We were talking about how incredible it is that our little babies were able to look at our faces, see our smiles and smile back. I can look at a hundred things people around me do, and there’s no way my body translates it in the same way – knowing exactly what muscles to use to mimic and do the same thing. “It’s almost instinctive,” I said. Another dad across the room smiled at me and said, “it’s mirror neurons.” He went on to explain that there are neurons in the brain specifically wired to help the body mirror what someone else is doing when they see it. Gabriel can look at my smile and smile back, without even thinking about it, because these neurons help his face muscles do what they have to do to form a smile, instead of a frown or a hundred other faces. There’s no trial and error to figure it out. It just happens. He will continue to grow into a boy and a young man, and learn how to be so with the help of mirror neurons. Fascinating.

A few weeks ago we had a student ministries event getting Nelson’s ice cream. When we walked in to the room we would sit down in to enjoy our MOUNDS of ice cream, I noticed what was very likely a date outside the window. I looked up at the students at our event and I started making up the voices and words that the couple was conversing about. Very innocent, I assure you – nothing against the couple. I said things like “MMM I love ice cream nom nom nom” (in a low manly voice), followed by “yeah I can tell it’s all over your face” (in a high-pitched girl voice). The students giggled, and maybe even laughed a little – but there was no way they were going to partake in the voice-over game. Somehow the subject changed, undoubtedly one of them said something to shift the focus away from doing something that may even slightly risk their embarrassment. What if what they came up with wasn’t all that funny to the rest of us? A while later we started cleaning up, and got up to leave. As I started walking toward the door, I heard the voice of one of our students playing the voice-over game with the couple one last time before we left – something about the girl being embarrassed with the idea of being seen in public with a guy with ice cream all over his face (the guy didn’t actually have any ice cream on his face). The student risked embarrassment, but also took the risk, meeting my original hopes that shared experience and comfortability would grow in the midst of our small growing community of students.

This story is a metaphor for the greater experience of modeling good character, a strong faith, and continual growth for the students at enCompass. I am thankful for a team of solid volunteers who have been showing up in the lives of our students, through one on one experiences and at our events. I am thankful for those beyond our volunteer team, in the broader enCompass community, who model community, desire for growth, and a heart to serve the city, country, and world around us. Whether with the help of mirror neurons or with help beyond what mirror neurons can provide, I believe, because of our great models, that we are poised to see significant growth among our students.

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