Sunday, 13 February 2011

On Emotions vs Feelings, and Politics

A few weeks ago, I had the unpleasant experience of getting involved in an online debate on a political issue. I made the mistake of thinking I could bring some light and fresh air into a very heated, dark place. Instead, I became the recipient of a vicious tirade of personal abuse and contempt. Eventually, I left, not because I was overwhelmed by their arguments, but because I did not want to be dragged down to their level.

One piece of their abuse, however, kept bugging me. They said several times I was using ‘emotional’ arguments, which confused me– it seemed to me they were the ones using emotive terms, and I was being my usual rational aspie self. Finally – after I’d left – I realized why. It’s because they confused emotions with feelings.

Huh, you might say? What’s the difference? I used to think them the same too. Then a spiritual teacher whom I greatly respected, pointed out the difference, and after due reflection, I realized she was right. Basically, it runs like this.

Emotions are things of the moment. They’re the rapid response to what’s happening around you, the swift happiness, anger, sadness, surprise, etc. They’re heady, and often overwhelming, but they’re ephemeral. That doesn’t mean they have no validity – there’s nothing wrong, for instance, with being annoyed if your spouse forgets your birthday – but they are not good grounds for making life-changing decisions.

Feelings, however, are quieter, but more long-lasting. They are the result, usually, of years or even decades of thinking, reflecting, and processing the Big Issues of life.  They take form through the rational processes of our minds, but come from deep in our hearts, or our souls. They form an undercurrent that often gives rise to emotions, but are not the emotions themselves. At times, these deeper feelings rise up and cause us to make profound changes to our lives – ending a relationship, changing careers, moving to another country, taking a new spiritual path. It’s best to heed what these feelings are trying to tell you, because you’ll only suffer if you don’t.

When I entered the above political argument, I was coming from both my mind and my deepest feelings. I argued for compassion, for understanding of difficult situations people might find themselves in, for accepting that life is not perfect, and nor are people and situations. Because this is the approach I take to life, the result of years of observation and reflection on life and the human race. Moreover, I consider this a perfectly valid ground to argue from. It combines both intellect and heart, and thus the very best of both ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain activity. It’s integrated. It’s individualistic. And as an aspie, I am very much into being an individual, and using my brain and my heart to work through matters.

So I left the argument, because my ‘opponents’ were using the emotive arguments of hatred, narrow-minded intolerance and bigotry. Theirs is the sort of fanaticism that can give rise to violence in the service of their ‘cause’, which scares the hell out of me, and none of which I want any part of. That is not my nature, and not my path in this world. And I find it sad that so many do follow such a path. I believe it’s one big reason, possibly the reason, why the world is in such a mess today. I’d be interested to know how others feel about this.

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