The Shoeshine Millionaire
This is an excerpted chapter from my latest e-book More Hypnotic Storytelling that explores the differences between right and left brain thinking.
It’s a sunny weekday morning in the financial district of lower Manhattan. A bank president stops at a corner shoeshine stand on Wall St. before heading into the office. The shoeshine man is an older fellow with a thick Eastern European accent who introduces himself as Mr. John Smith. They exchange some pleasantries and after awhile the shoeshine asks his affluent customer, “Is it a good time now to put money into the stock market?”
Bemused, the bank president asks in return, “Why would you want to know that?”
To which Mr. Smith replies, “I have 1 million dollars deposited in your bank and I want to make sure I am getting the very best return on my money.”
Skeptical to say the least, the bank president gives him a quick answer and then heads off to work. When he gets to the office he asks the account manager, “Do you know Mr. Smith, that shoeshine guy on the corner? Does he have an account with us?”
Without missing a beat, the manager answers, “Sure I know John, great guy, he has a million bucks deposited with us.”
With that, the bank president goes back out to Mr. Smith and says, “Mr. Smith, I am very sorry if I seemed to doubt that you were wealthy when we spoke before. I would be honored if you would speak at our upcoming board meeting this Thursday afternoon and tell us about your immigrant success story. I am sure all of us could learn a lot from you.” Flattered, Smith agrees.
At the meeting a few days later, the bank president introduces Mr. Smith to the board members, telling them that they are about to hear an inspiring, real-life story about the American dream. He then gestures for his esteemed guest to begin his presentation while taking his seat.
Mr. Smith stands up, clears his throat, smiles, and begins.
“In my home country, there was no real future for me. I had little money and poor education. But I dreamt of success in this great land of opportunity where anything is possible for those willing to work hard. I came to your country with a name that was hard to pronounce, so I changed it to Mr. John Smith, a good American name is it not? After arriving here, I was struggling to survive, but I never gave up hope. One day while wandering the streets of this city looking for work, I found a $5 bill on the sidewalk. I was hungry and decided to buy a small bag of apples but instead of eating them, I used those apples to start my first business here in America. ”
“I sold those apples one at a time out in the street for more than I paid for them. I took that money and bought more apples and sold those. I kept repeating this process. Slowly but surely, I started to save money. But I hardly ever spent anything on me, just the bare necessities I needed to survive.”
“Soon I saved enough to buy a shoeshine kit, started a new business with that, and did the same thing. Almost everything I earned I put back into the business. Things like high-quality polishes and a really comfortable chair for my customers. All the while I never indulged in any luxuries whatsoever, only the bare necessities!”
By this point, all the board members were smiling and nodding approvingly. Mr. Smith continued.
“Last year, the shoeshine man on the corner here retired. By then I had saved enough money to take over the rent for his spot where so many wealthy and successful people like yourselves come to work each day and want nice, shiny shoes.”
“Finally, last month my older sister, who was a famous prostitute in Chicago, died and left me a million dollars.”
Hopefully, you got a laugh or at least a smile from this slightly off-color joke. And humor gives us a good segue into discussing the difference between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and how this applies to mind/body healing practices as well as stress reduction.
You may be familiar with the idea that the brain is divided into two hemispheres, the right, and the left. In appearance, it is not unlike a walnut shell. Each of the two halves has specialized functions. For starters, the left side of the brain controls the right side of your body and the right hemisphere controls the opposite side. But wait, there’s more!
While not a perfectly exact model, it can be said that the left side of the brain is where the functions of what we call the conscious mind take place. It is analytical, sequential, and handles the perception of time’s passage. Our ability to do mathematical calculations and to express abstract ideas with words originates there. It wants to make logical sense of the world around us and to impose order and structure upon it. In doing so, it is judgmental and critical.
The right side of the brain handles many of the experiences that we equate with the subconscious mind. It is non-linear and grasps ideas all at once without going through a sequential process like its counterpart on the left side. It’s where inspired aha! moments come from. Along with this intuitive sense, the right hemisphere is home to our capacity for creating and appreciating art, music, and poetry, along with our sense of humor. It doesn’t perceive time, rather it lives in what has been called an eternal present. It also responds to vividly imagined experiences as if they were real and has the quality of being accepting and non-judgmental.
It should be noted that one side of the brain is not superior to the other. What we need is a healthy balance between the two. However, one way to explain much of the angst common in our modern culture is that the left brain is frequently overactive in the form of worrying and by constantly passing judgment on ourselves, other people, and the world around us.
Remember how older model computers would crash frequently? It was explained to me once by a tech whiz that the computer’s system would get stuck in what is called a recursive loop. This is where it keeps repeating the same function over and over again without resolution or exit. Eventually, it uses up all of the memory resources and the system would fail.
In its effort to foretell and plan for future problems, the left brain will go into endless recursive loops of its own too. This what-if variety of thinking is sensed by the right hemisphere which doesn’t distinguish between past, present, or future. Instead, it responds as if those dreaded outcomes were happening NOW and this in turn triggers the deeper, emotional brain into the fight or flight mode.
In a hypnosis session, we begin the process by seeking to calm the overactive left-hemisphere and reduce the anxiety engendered by excessive analytical thinking. Sort of like rebooting a computer by shutting it off for a while and then turning it back on. This is also an objective in many forms of meditation. However, there are healthy everyday activities that can help too.
One is humor. One reason the joke we started out with probably made you laugh or smile is that it disrupted the orderly sequence that the conscious mind uses. At first, you were following the storyline, thinking it was an inspiring tale about a successful immigrant. However, the unexpected twist at the end turned that expectation on its head. This caused a shift to the right hemisphere, which got the punchline right away. This is why if you have to explain a joke logically, it decreases its ability to make someone laugh as humor is more right-brained than left. A regular visit to your local comedy club can be quite therapeutic as laughter gets you out of the analytical mode and also releases endorphins, one of your body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
Another way to shift into a more right-brain dominant state is by enjoying music. It doesn’t matter what type of music floats your boat. If it creates the desired feeling in you, that is all that matters. Overanalyzing music or art takes a lot of the joy out of it. This reminds me of a true story, and don’t worry, it doesn’t involve shoeshine men or their naughty older sisters…
Years ago I used to work in an adult psychiatric rehabilitation program as a case manager. One of my fellow employees was an accomplished trumpet player who was a member of our local symphonic orchestra. She and I would marvel at the rather snarky, nitpicky reviews the local paper’s music critic would write about their performances and those of other musicians from the area.
I remember with one review he actually had brought a stopwatch with him and noted that a rather long piece was completed in something like a minute and 9 seconds faster than it should have been. To read his reviews, you would think he had been listening to cats in heat wailing in the alleyway. But I am sure everyone in the audience (besides him) enjoyed their night out.
Now, remember, these local musicians are for the most part semi-pro and have other jobs or careers. Under those circumstances, you realize that you will not hear the same level of performance you would expect from a top-tier symphony in New York or London that is made up of full-time professionals. But you can still have a great time at such a concert and it’s awesome if you can give support to your local artists. As for the reviewer in question, maybe he was upset his writing wasn’t considered good enough to land himself a prestigious job with the New York Times or the Washington Post…
An inherent flaw with most reviews of the arts is that they are trying to stuff a holistic, right-brain experience into a left-brain analytical box, which most of us need a break from. It’s my suspicion that a lot of drug and alcohol use and misuse stems from a desire to get out of that mode, to silence the inner critic, and to have a good time without having to justify it. Many of us have not been able to do that since childhood. But the consequences of the substance route more often than not outweigh the benefits.
But comedy or any evocative art form can safely and sanely disrupt the recursive left-brain worries that need to be quieted from time to time. We need less judging and more just being. So sing, paint, laugh, and dance as if your left brain wasn’t watching!