Don’t trust your emotions. They will betray you.

Image credit: Toddatkins via Wikipedia

Image credit: Toddatkins via Wikipedia

I’ve mentioned before that my views have changed dramatically over the years.  But thinking about that the other day, it occurred to me that most of that change happened in a fairly narrow period.  At the beginning of 2004, I was still a nominal Catholic, often voted Republican, was suspicious of gays and other non-traditional groups, and generally considered the United States to be on the cutting edge of democratic and economic innovation.

By the end of 2005, I was a liberal progressive and committed Democrat, was painfully aware of the undemocratic aspects of my country, along with the fact that many other developed countries had been doing things with social safety nets for generations that were considered hopelessly experimental and academic in the US, and my religious beliefs were more or less history.

What happened?  Well, I read a book in the summer of 2004.  It was not a book on politics, economics, religion, or philosophy.  It was a self-help book on emotional intelligence.  Well, sort of.  The term “emotional intelligence” didn’t show up anywhere in it, but I had already read a couple of other books on that subject and been irritated by how theoretical, how disconnected they were from practical solutions.

But Sheenah Hankin’s ‘Complete Confidence: A Handbook‘ ended up being pretty much what I was looking for.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for a confidence boost (although it certainly wouldn’t have hurt) but a practical guide on keeping my emotions reigned in and making better decisions.  I’m not sure what called my attention to this book, but it would eventually have a profound effect on my thinking.

Hankin’s chief thesis was to push back on the idea that there is something virtuous or enlightening with following our feelings, of giving precedence to our emotions.  As I’ve discussed before, we are emotional beings.  Reason is a tool of emotion.  But we have a wide variety of emotions, many of which are often in conflict with each other.  Notably, short term emotional needs are often in conflict with longer term emotional needs.

Reason is a tool to allow us to choose which emotional impulses we should indulge in.  That capability has become increasingly crucial in a world radically different from the one we evolved in.  Our emotions are often tuned for life on the African savanna, not for surviving workplace politics or succeeding in online discussions.

Of course, this is often much easier said than done.  Emotions are powerful things.  Often anger, fear, and sorrow overwhelm the small voice of reason pointing out what the better course of action may be.  Hankin provides a relatively simple framework to deal with this, which she refers to as “The Winning Hand of Comfort”, mainly because she counts off the steps on the fingers of one hand: calm, clarify, challenge, comfort, confidence.

Calm

This is the first and most crucial stage.  It’s also the most difficult, particularly when you’re emotionally upset.  The trick is to recognize when you’re in that state, realize that you need to calmly assess the situation, and take steps to do so.  Hankin talks about taking deep breathes, which of course is almost a cliche at this point.  But I think the key thing is to recognize that you’re not calm, and take steps to reach a calmer place.  It may involve separating yourself from the situation, which depending on that situation, could be difficult.  But in most cases (immediate life safety emergencies aside) it’s worth the effort.

Often, when  you do attempt to do this, there may be people who don’t want to give you that opportunity.  They may have an agenda and are hoping to pressure you into a decision that benefits them.  Pushy salespeople come to mind, but as a manager I’ve often had this come from customers, colleagues, employees, and from many other directions.  In most cases (again life and death emergencies aside), little or nothing is lost taking a break to calm down, and often there is much to be gained.

The good news, is that this gets much easier over time and with practice, easier to recognize when you need to do it, and easier to actually do it.  I’ve reached the point where it’s more or less a reflex now.  If I’m upset, I reflexively try to calm down.  Of course, I’m human and it doesn’t always work, but compared to early 2004, I’m practically a zen master now.

Clarify

Once you’ve managed to calm down, the next step to to assess the situation.  Why are you upset?  It’s crucial to be honest with yourself at this stage.  If you’re getting upset over something minor and trivial,  it’s still something that you need to understand.  We can’t control our immediate emotions, we can only control our reaction to them.  There’s nothing dishonorable with having emotions we may not be proud of, although there might be something dishonorable in giving in to them.

One thing I was surprised to discover when I started doing this, was how often there wasn’t really anything major I was getting upset about.  Often it was because I was jacked on caffeine.  (I drank about ten cups of coffee a day back in 2004.)  Eventually this realization led me to drastically cut back on my caffeine intake.

Challenge

Once you’re in a calm state and understand why you were upset, the next step is to challenge that notion.  How upset should I really be over that guy cutting me off in traffic?  Did that person in the meeting really mean to insult me?  Is my significant other mad at me or just in a bad mood?  More often than not, the resulting conclusion will be that there is nothing there, that really there isn’t any real reason to be upset.

Of course, sometimes the conclusion will go the other way.  The good news is, by the time you reach this point, you’ll be in a much better state of mind to deal with it rationally, rather than simply meeting what will often be an emotional display with another emotional display.

Comfort

Hankin talks about the importance of self coaching, of comforting ourselves.  I thought this was pretty strange when I first read it, but all of my reading about the mind and brain since then has convinced me that there is a lot of insight here.  We are not one unified whole, but rather a loose collection of impulses and desires.  Often, the more primal aspects of our minds can be soothed and comforted by the conscious rationalist aspect of ourselves, in a way that simply doesn’t seem to happen by just holding that comforting knowledge.

Hankin recommends having a ready phrase to use, such as “It’s no big deal,” or “Don’t overreact,” but I personally find coming up with a tailored phrase for the situation more helpful, but it does require more thought in the moment than having a ready phrase.

Confidence

This is the final phase in Hankin’s framework.  It’s really more of a desired result than a phase you work on.  I’m not sure how much personal confidence this sequence really provides, except perhaps the confidence of feeling like you’re making a more considered and careful decision.  Still, I have to say that I’m often in a much better state of mind at this stage than I was before the Calm stage.


Is this sequence the end all be all?  Will it solve every personal issue?  Not at all.  But it did help me in my professional interactions in the summer of 2004.  And then it began to have more far ranging effects.  It inspired me to calm down, clarify, and challenge my intuitive position on many matters, personal, professional, and philosophical, leading to the changes I mentioned above.  (As well as many other personal and professional changes I haven’t mentioned.)

It may be that Hankin’s book just happened to catch me at a particular point in my life where I was already subconsciously questioning many things, and using her framework allowed me to bring it up into my consciousness.

But it was a significant enough influence on me that it’s one of three books I often recommend when a discussion comes up about books on leadership or career management.  It’s the third, after Dale Carnegie’s classic ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, and Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’.  But only Hankin’s book led to wholesale changes in my worldview.

What about you?  Are there any books that had effects on your thinking far beyond their initial scope?

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44 Responses to Don’t trust your emotions. They will betray you.

  1. John C. Wright, The Golden Age. It crystallized my comprehension of truth and morality – which were always of prime importance to me. Good on you for The Art of War. I tell most people than and they look at my like a psycho. Well, they do that anyway.

    But, ya. Emotions be crazy, and the promotion of their infallibility is pathetic. I went crazy as a kid, so I learned maturity early.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. I haven’t read any Wright (although I’ve heard of him), but The Golden Age looks interesting.

      On ‘The Art of War’, I often note to people that it’s really the art of conflict, although you have to be willing to generalize the discussion of horses and generals. The first chapter is probably the most important: calculate carefully before you go to war, since triumph or defeat is often already determined by preexisting conditions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ya, most people just get scared when you mention war. It’s so scary.

    Don’t read his other books, they’re.. meh. Definitely a touch of his wisdom all the others I’ve read, but that fucking series is wondrous. I’ll give you an example.

    “Who of us are complex enough to understand, or simple enough to be understood by, ourselves?”

    Another. “War is the context inwhich peace exists.”

    And some of the sickest burns I’ve ever seen were in that series.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ry Yelcho says:

    I grew up with early television and was thoroughly indoctrinated in bland, self important, American, 1950’s. post war culture and religion. Then, as a young teen, I started reading HG Wells, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. The Time Machine, 1984, Brave New World all freed my mind to explore radical landscapes of possibilities, politics and morality that did not casually exist in my suburban sidewalked neighborhood. I still hold the greatest admiration for these often dark and edgy thinkers of my time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve read Wells, but have to admit to having only read about the others. But ‘The Time Machine’ did blow my mind. The idea of deep time and that humanity might not evolve in a direction we’d consider progress was consciousness raising. Since Wells wrote that book, the scientific time scales have grown far more expansive. If he were writing that story today, he probably would have had the protagonist experience the heat death of the universe.

      Like

  4. Hariod Brawn says:

    This is most interesting, Mike, and quite a departure from that I consider to be your typical content. It’s funny how, in the blogosphere, we build imagery and narratives in our head of what type of person the author is, and I know for sure that quite a few have wildly miscalculated me. Then again, perhaps I have miscalculated myself? o_O

    Anyway, I suppose if I have any equivalent to the book you read, then it would likely be the various texts I absorbed on Buddhist psychology, the most comprehensive of which were the Abhidhamma Pitaka and the Visuddhimagga. It seems a lot of contemporary self-help thinking comes out of the reductive analytical methods of orthodox Buddhism, and the recent vogue for mindfulness has links there too. ‘Secular Buddhism’, many call it, but it may well have emerged had Buddhist psychology not preexisted anyway, I suppose.

    The thing I found trickiest to dig out was spotting my assumptions, as they operate and come into effect so quickly that they pass beneath the threshold of consciousness. Before we know it, we’re set off down a path based upon an assumption, or worse still, a presumption.

    The most helpful development I found was in dis-identifying with phenomena, and which really comes about naturally following systematic reductive analysis in reflective awareness – though this takes a huge amount of training, it would seem. Emotions (positive and negative) then are seen as if passing clouds drifting through the mind and body, rather than as being synonymous with ‘me in this state’. As you say, it then is far easier to view situations rationally, if necessary, as the heat goes out of the situation.

    Perhaps seemingly oddly, rather than making things feel dry, aloof and distanced as a result, things actually appear more intimately to awareness, and are more fully, vividly absorbed. This is because there’s no longer the incessant play of desire and aversion pushing and pulling away in the subconscious at things, and which always comes with our identifying with phenomena – “this is me, mine, or the self of me”, sort of thing. It’s Humean in a sense – a ‘bundle of perceptions’ – but it’s also more fully human, somehow, more connected and integrated. Glad you found the same! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hariod, I’m curious which aspect of your model of my personality just got modified. I know someone told me they were shocked to learn I lived in south Louisiana after my Baton Rouge post. (I guess they pictured me as a west or east coast liberal instead of an oddball liberal in the southern US.)

      Based on your posts and comments, my picture of you is a middle aged or older person, maybe wearing shorts and sandals, with leftward politics. You’ve indicated before that you’re familiar with how international corporations work, which implies you might have a corporate background from which you either retired or perhaps quit in disgust. And you seem to have a strong literary interest. That’s mostly my current model for you, although I’m sure some aspects of it are off base.

      Interesting on the Buddhist stuff. I’ve said before that, if I had to be religious, I’d most likely be a Buddhist, because it’s an outlook that basically could be poetic naturalism. I think the Buddhists definitely pioneered a lot of discoveries about the mind. They obviously influenced the ancient Greeks. (Or maybe the Greeks influenced them; who knows.) All of which heavily influenced our civilization’s views of the mind.

      I other words, there may well be a common pedigree to our views. Although I wouldn’t discount the possibility of convergence, optimistically hoping that they reference the same truth.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn says:

        I’ll be brutally frank, since you asked, Mike, and in any case the answer reflects poorly on me for the most part, and not at all on your good self. I had you down as someone not terribly interested in messy emotions, and far more up in the head, so to speak – an incorrigible intellectual, constantly wondering about replacing brains with unfeeling silicon CPU’s. I certainly didn’t have you down as even a ‘nominal’ Catholic, nor a (former) Republican, certainly not reactionary as regards gender politics, and far removed from anything remotely resembling American Exceptionalism. So, at least as far as your former self goes, then I had you as wrong as you have me in parts of your comment. Shorts and sandals! Hahahahaha. And my literary interest is embarrassingly stunted, despite recent allusions to Virginia Woolf. You’re correct as regards my politics, and age-wise I’m in my early sixties, so quite close there. I worked with multi-nationals, but not for them – well, I did just once, long ago. I know enough of how big business works, having seen the machinations of the cartels and slush funds up very close, and was once tangentially involved in a TV exposé of a multi-national.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks Hariod. Given that a large portion of my posts are about the mind and A.I., I can definitely see where you’d get that picture.

          On corporations, you might be surprised to learn that my bachelor’s degree was in accounting and that I hold a CPA (unlicensed). When I was in college, I saw myself as being a business person, and was a business manager for several years before eventually deciding that I just wanted to return to being a computer programmer. Can’t say I ever regretted walking away from the business career.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. James Pailly says:

    It’s interesting to me that such profound changes came over you in such a short period of time. I suspect the same thing is currently happening to me. My 2016 is turning into your 2004.

    It’s a little unnerving to have so many of my long-cherished beliefs suddenly unravel. There have been a few books I could point to as contributing factors, but I think the big thing has been the insanity of the current political season.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can see that. I know in 2004 that the Bush administration and Iraq War were factors in my political realignment. (Reading David M. Kennedy’s ‘Freedom from Fear’ and T. R. Reid’s ‘The United States of Europe’ were also major factors, but I’m not sure I would have read either if the Bush administration hadn’t shaken my convictions.)

      But Bush is a statesman compared to Trump. I’m somewhat heartened by the recent polls, but I won’t be relieved until Trump is definitely defeated. The idea of that poisonous clown as our leader is nausea inducing.

      Hope your journey isn’t too traumatic.

      Liked by 2 people

      • James Pailly says:

        Watching Trump’s poll numbers drop, I said to myself, “Finally, the world makes sense again!” But we still have to endure another 90 days of this to be sure.

        As for my own journey, I think I just have to figure out what I do believe, now that I know with such clarity what I don’t.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I’m familiar with the feeling. In the realm of political outlook, I found a lot of grounding in reading history and political biographies, which looked at the real controversies of the past. I highly recommend it. It made me look at our current leaders and controversies in a much more balanced way. It also showed which political positions are narrow culturally parochial biases.

          Liked by 2 people

      • I completely agree with you that Trump is a poisonous clown but, I wonder, do you think it’s valuable to understand the resentments and hatreds that make him appealing to tens of millions of people?

        One reason I’m not sure I agree with your article here is that I think truly understanding the emotional stances of “bad people” makes it a lot easier to counter them in the future, to understand the circumstances that lead to their rise and to control the people who support them.

        I’m not sure I can do that if I don’t allow myself to feel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I definitely think there’s value in understanding their point of view. Living in Louisiana, a state that Trump will win handily, I think I have some insights into it, at least for the Louisianian variety. Trump supporters I know can be grouped into two broad categories: those who enthusiastically support him, and those doing so reluctantly.

          The reluctant group are basically committed conservatives horrified by the idea of another Democratic president, most notably by the implications for the supreme court. They’re holding their nose and voting for Trump because they see him as the lesser evil, and hoping Congressional Republicans can run things if he wins. Most of the evangelicals I know fit into this category.

          The enthusiastic supporters I know are generally white nationalists. Many of them will openly admit it, at least to friends and family. They’re angry about America being less and less about white Christian culture, and want someone to somehow arrest and reverse this trend. Obama in the presidency appears to be painful for them to think about. All but one of the people I know in this category are older with no college education. I suspect many of them are happy to see David Duke re-emerge (although I haven’t yet specifically heard any discussion of Duke from them).

          Unfortunately, while this group often rails about economics (free trade, immigrants taking jobs, etc), something that could conceivably be addressed, their real complaint appears to be about cultural change, a much more difficult issue.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’d agree with this on a rational level. However, I wonder if that’s enough.

            In my experience, those reluctant supporters have very specific, rational and emotional reasons for being horrified by Democrats. Likewise, there’s and emotional core to why the enthusiastic supporters would like to see Trump burn down black culture, for example.

            I’m not sure I can understand the real reasons for these behaviors, or come up with actual solutions, unless I allow myself to genuinely experience their feelings.

            That’s kind of what I’m getting at. Learning how to feel deeply, how to honestly and without shame empathize with people I don’t like seems to be pretty powerful thing thus far.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I understand what you’re saying. I should note that many of the people I described above are my friends and family. Their culture is the one I grew up in. I love many of them fiercely, even if I disagree with their politics. (I’ve learned the hard way not to wear those disagreements on my shoulder.)

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, I understand. Rural Nevada isn’t so different and the “only bad people think X” thing just doesn’t really work.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. earnestern says:

    “Games People Play” by Eric Berne was and remains a life saver. You’d probably like it. Totally agree with your post, unfettered emotions lead to nothing but trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Michael says:

    Hi Mike,

    I really enjoyed this piece and learning a little more about the process that has led to the words you share here. I went to Sheenah’s site and read some of what I found there, and it looks very interesting. Reading your exchange with Hariod I realized how interesting it is to discover how we are seen, and how we see.

    I have difficulty with the idea that emotions betray us, at least in the sense of the the negative connotation the word betray currently carries with it– but if we think of the way our actions and our words “betray” us I think what we find is that they ultimately reveal us. They often “betray” what we would hide. They are a data set we can mine deeply to see what we are thinking, even thinking subconsciously, below the level of the conscious processing of information. And this is quite valuable information, I think, as it seems you have discovered for yourself. As you described in this post, when we look more deeply at our emotions, rather than being driven by them, we find the logic that has given rise to them, and often find it to be quite lacking in a sound basis.

    Many books have touched me deeply, in a sequence almost. A Course of Love is my current inner bestseller, and it has an interesting take on emotion that I don’t feel is dissonant with what you have described here. But perhaps you have experienced moments as well where the feeling of emotion was profoundly joyful? Like a picture, a song, or an expression to a loved one that suddenly triggered joy, or even tears. Tears of sorrow can somehow become joyous at times– it is remarkable, and so I guess what I’m saying is that emotions can “betray” our most petty and infantile thought patterns, but also can “betray” or “reveal” our deepest connections. Did Sheenah address this at all in her work?

    I think acting on emotion swiftly, without the balance of circumspection, can certainly lead to difficulty– likewise, too much contemplation and analysis can leave us stalled and distant. So for me there is a balance here, a dialogue of the head and the heart that, like any dialectic, can serve to reveal the wisdom that lies beneath the surface of our unconscious interactions… But let me say that I don’t suggest this to disagree with what you have offered here, for so much of our world’s difficulty lies in blind adherence to the emotions of guilt, anger, retribution and revenge. The adage of an eye for an eye is nothing if not an emotional dictate- devoid of a deeper and more peaceful logic. The world would do well to examine its impulses and reactions, as well as the moments that reveal the deep abiding love of each for each, which is so often hidden away.

    Michael

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Michael,
      Thank you for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed it.

      I didn’t realize Hankin had a web site. I quickly looked it up after seeing your comment, but was disappointed in what appears to be more of a brochure page. All well. I was hoping maybe she had a blog or something.

      I think our emotions definitely can betray us in that, if we indulge them, they can cause us to act against our own best interests. Definitely we can learn about our own internal state from them. That’s what the Clarify step is about.

      On your question about positive emotions, I think Hankin would say that, absolutely there are emotions we just want to experience. There’s nothing wrong with that. If I’m moved to tears by a work or art, I don’t think she would advise me to resist it. On the other hand, if I think a work of art is unbearably stupid and the artist is standing right there, simply venting my frustration with it may not be the move I want to make.

      I agree with your last paragraph. We don’t want to be robots or Star Trek Vulcans. The key thing to remember with this is that you don’t want to do this process for every emotion you feel, just the ones that might make you act in anger, fear, or some other negative emotion. And sometimes, you’ll decide to simply give in to the emotion.

      I thought about putting this quote in the post, but it had gotten too long so I omitted it, but I think it encapsulates Hankin’s philosophy. This is Abraham Lincoln talking to people in the US south just before the American Civil War:

      My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.

      Unfortunately, this advice was not heeded and four years of bloody war followed.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Sun Tzu, Machiavelli’s Discorsi and Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols really opened my eyes. I’d been so focused on being “good” in the early Christian sense and it made me really easy to take advantage of, really easy to take for granted.

    Where I’d expected hard work, humility and sacrifice to get me respect, I found instead these things earned contempt.

    Sun Tzu taught me how to treat society like a puzzle, Machiavelli taught me to value how people are over “how they should be,” and Nietzsche taught me that I didn’t need to be a beast of burden.

    More recently, Kierkegaard helped me value subjectivity and find peace in emotion. I’m trying really hard to eliminate shame for feeling or wanting things. Mohsin Hamid’s entire canon is an inspiration for truly, honestly trying to empathize with everyone- especially “bad people.”

    Reading your post, I wonder if you think it’s wise to let your feelings run their course and just worry about actions, or conversely, try to train your emotions to avoid anger/lust/whatever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure worrying about our immediate emotions is productive. I think they’re largely autonomous events, mental reflexes. We’re going to experience them and our only decision is in how we respond to them. But in the longer term, I think our actions or behavior have an effect on what emotions we’ll experience in the future. Indulging our immediate emotions will have emotional consequences. Resisting and challenging them, when appropriate, will mitigate their longer term effects.

      In other words, emotions and actions are tightly bound in a feedback loop. Feel anger, act in anger, and your angry emotions will be stoked. Feel anger, calm down and challenge that anger, and you have a much better chance of smoothing it out and getting past it.

      This is in contrast to a lot of conventional wisdom that we should let our emotions play themselves out, that doing so is healthy. But Hankin’s advise, and my personal experience, is that this is awful advise. I had a cousin who was bitter and angry about his divorce. A counselor advised him to write about his feelings on a daily basis to “work through” them. From what I observed, doing so allowed him to stew in that anger, to coax and sustain it far longer than if he had just evaluated if it was in his interest to act in anger, and move on after he had concluded that it wasn’t.

      Of course, everyone is a little different and there’s no such thing as one size advise for all people and all situations. But my experience is that controlling our behavior, our reaction to immediate emotions, controls, or at least influences, our longer term emotions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • On working through emotions vs. rationally choosing how to respond to them, I’m on the side of the latter as well. Working through them may seem like a rational way to deal with them, but it’s often not. The reason is because there are some emotions which aren’t meaningful. At all. They’ll go away soon and they don’t necessarily point to something systemically wrong with you or the world. I know this from my personal experience; honestly, from PMS…nothing is more humbling than knowing your anger or sadness—which feels so strong in the moment, so strong it’s hard to dismiss—derives directly from the “that time of the month.” I don’t know if men have some sort of equivalent, a “man period,” but in a way I feel lucky that I have this knowledge of what can happen when emotions betray me, having had so many examples of totally ridiculous feelings that could not be taken seriously by any rational being. (Crying over ASPCA commercials…that really happens.)

        Someone who has been through a lot of therapy might be more inclined to “work through” the emotion, even encouraging others to do the same, even while in the midst of experiencing that emotion. That can be a disaster, because then it becomes a psychologizing fishing expedition for “true” motivation, which, of course, is always something systemic, yet totally unverifiable. There’s never any real marker outside of personal acknowledgment that the feeling derives from X-Huge-Subconscious-Life-Agenda/Past Experience. Looking for patterns will produce a pattern, but that may not reflect reality.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I’d agree that some feelings are ridiculous. As for a man period, I’d call it the entire time between 12 and 22. 😉

          That said, even with ridiculous feelings, is it productive trying to not feel them? I’d think the wiser course of action would be to cry over the ASPCA commercial, collect yourself, laugh at how goofy it all was and move on.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I don’t think you can stop yourself from feeling the emotion. The most you can do is acknowledge it and decide how to deal with it. Some emotions should be taken seriously, but others shouldn’t. That there are some emotions that are totally irrelevant is made obvious by examples like the ASPCA commercial. Most of the time it’s not so obvious. Say you’re in the midst of a lover’s quarrel, you might not realize that you’re mad at something trivial until you’ve caused a lot of not-so-trivial damage. So the point is to realize that you need to pause and assess the situation first.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Completely agree.

            “Honey, I’m too upset to have this discussion right now” is such a good phrase. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

      • Do you think there’s a meaningful distinction between experiencing an emotion fully and stewing in an emotion? I think maybe your cousin wasn’t being entirely honest about his emotions …

        I’m thinking of a breakup I had after a long and very committed relationship. There was always this temptation to ignore the fact that I hurt, deeply and profoundly, and cover it up with anger or denunciation or denial. I could have avoided that brute fact, “I am in a lot of pain,” by calling my ex dirty names and being angry. I could have avoided it by getting loaded at the local bar. I could have repressed and forced myself to smile but all of that would have been dishonest.

        Another instance, a member of my family, in a very cowardly series of actions, betrayed the rest of us and caused us many years of intense hardship. The articles about falling into poverty that I’ve written are because of this person.

        I enjoy hurting this person. I enjoy humiliating this person and I am happy when I can see them squirm. This is the emotional truth, and I don’t think there’s a point in denying it.

        Trying to pretend I don’t want to hurt this person seems dishonest, but on the other hand, I also know that the angel of vengeance thing is a pointless endeavor. I also know that I want my life to be positive and constructive rather than focused on “cosmic justice” or “settling the score.”

        The equillibrium I’ve settled for is acknowledging, without shame, my desire to inflict pain with a coarse of action that will actually lead somewhere productive (in this case, being minimally civil and minding my own business).

        I don’t know if things would get better if I beat myself up for wanting to hurt this person or if I told myself to stop hurting after a breakup.

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        • “Do you think there’s a meaningful distinction between experiencing an emotion fully and stewing in an emotion?”

          I do. It comes again to the distinction between the immediate emotion, which we have no real control over, and the longer term emotions. If someone wrongs me, I’m going to have an emotion about it. But I can have some influence on my emotion about them in the months and years to come. If I keep replaying the wrong in my head, rehashing it in conversations with others who were also wronged, and generally stoking the anger, then I’ll stay angry about it. But if I can recognize that behavior isn’t helping, I can try to think about something else when I catch myself doing it. It’s not a denial of the original emotion, so much as an effort to move past it.

          Does this always work in any guaranteed manner? Unfortunately, no. But my experience is that it can work in most cases. Breaking out of that feedback loop is not easy, particularly when you’re not used to doing it, but it gets easier with practice.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Really enjoyed your post, Mike. It’s also nice to have the personal context of the ideas, which fits the subject neatly. Amazing that you’ve had so many changes in such a short time frame. I hadn’t realized that your views had changed so recently (well, relatively speaking.)

    As for books, you know I’ll list Plato’s Collected Dialogues. The surprising one was Augustine’s Confessions, which opened my eyes to the 1st person experience of religious conversion in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I found myself much more accepting of religious ideas, or at least understanding. I suspect that my feelings about that reading were greatly influenced by the changes I was going through at the time, and all the other reading.

    Also, the Book of Job. But really it was more the class discussion of it, which made its complexity and depth more apparent to me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Tina! Glad you enjoyed it.

      Totally agree with your views on emotions, but I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all to cry over ASPCA commercials. They’re designed to evoke an emotional response and, ideally for the ASPCA, a financial one.

      Definitely relative on the “recently” since it’s been 11-12 years now. It occurred to me, having learned what I have about human memory, that it’s possible it didn’t happen how I remember it, that I’ve reconstructed a plausible sequence. But my Amazon purchase history seem to back up the sequence, so I think it’s most likely accurate.

      One of these days I really do need to go back to Plato’s writings. I read some of them in school, but it was mandated reading for a world history class, and I’m sure I didn’t get everything out of it I could have. I actually have them in my Kindle account. Just have to make the time.

      Interestingly, even when I was a believer, I found Job utterly unsatisfying. It came across to me as the, “Shut up, I’m God and this is just the way it is,” response to suffering. But again, it might have had something to do with my age (teenager) when I read it, and I almost certainly didn’t get as much out of it as I might have with a guide.

      That said, while I went through my anti-religious phase, I long ago outgrew it. If people get comfort and meaning from their faith, I’m not interested in taking it from them, at least as long as they’re not trying to impose their strictures on me. And recent events (my house almost flooded yesterday and many friends did flood) reminded me why many people find comfort in religion.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I was thinking about you when I heard about the flooding on the news. I’m glad to hear your house hasn’t flooded, but sorry to hear about your friends. I’ve heard there are a lot of people helping each other out. A nice change in the news, for sure. Are you thinking of a post? I enjoy reading about such events from a local’s perspective…well, from an intelligent local’s perspective.

        As for the ASPCA thing, I found it ridiculous because I don’t cry very often over such things. Certainly not over commercials. The weird thing is, I know even while I’m crying that I’m being manipulated and that something is hijacking my rational mind. It’s infuriating. The other time this sort of thing happened was when I was watching historical footage of concentration camps—that was harder to place as PMS, but even that was in fact PMS, even though there really was something to cry about and I didn’t feel wrongly manipulated. (I’d seen similar footage before and didn’t cry.) That episode was terrible. I couldn’t stop crying. Now I don’t take chances with that sort of footage anymore.

        With Plato, you really do get more out of the reading if you have a good discussion about it or are guided by someone. So much so that you might miss the whole point! Not kidding. It’s easy to read, say, the Republic, and get only a surface-level understanding. But that surface-level understanding may actually be in opposition to an interpretation that would arise from a deeper reading. Not all dialogues are so multi-layered, though. The Symposium is a good starting point…a fun read.

        I think your interpretation of Job is actually the standard one. I have a whole chapter in my novel devoted to a discussion between a philosopher and a Bible-thumping Christian about the interpretation of Job. The latter defends the idea that the whole thing boils down to “Shut up. You know nothing. I’m God.” The professor goes deeper by doing a more literary analysis (and of course reveals my interpretation.) The Christian ends up winning a shallow victory.

        Good thing your didn’t have to stick around in the anti-religious phase for too long. That’s where I was for most of my youth. Not fun, not fun. And certainly not fun for those around you. And not really all that rational either, which you know.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Are you thinking of a post?”
          I am, when it’s over. It’s over for me personally, but I have a lot of friends and family still in jeopardy. The most frustrating thing is there’s nothing I can do, currently being trapped in my local area. Living in Louisiana, flooding is a fact of life, although people usually know whether they live in a flood area or not. But this event is a freak of nature, flooding areas that haven’t flooded in centuries.

          “The weird thing is, I know even while I’m crying that I’m being manipulated and that something is hijacking my rational mind.”
          I think that’s an important insight. The part of us that feels can’t be quickly changed by the rational part. Often this comes down to acknowledging that there is an irrational primal / childish aspect to ourselves, and learning to manage it.

          Thanks for the Plato tips. Do you know if there are any annotated versions that might be worth looking at? Not sure if I’ll ever have an opportunity for a class.

          On anti-religion, yeah. I still have a lot of sympathy for people challenging faith healers, creationists, cultists, religiously inspired bigotry, or people trying to sneak their religion into public schools. But it seems like many religious people just want to be left alone, which I can completely sympathize with.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I just heard about how freakish the flooding is there, an event that rarely happens on that scale. And now fires in CA. Heat waves in the east…I’m feeling pretty lucky this summer.

            As for Plato, I can’t think of anything! I never used annotated versions since we weren’t supposed to do that for class. Plus, I have my husband’s “annotated” copy, if I can decipher his handwriting. 🙂

            I just asked my husband. His advice is to look for dialogues individually rather than buying the collected works. That way you’ll get an introduction and probably a fresher translation. He also recommends Paul Shorey’s “What Plato Said,” an older book, not what you’d read if you wanted to know the latest theories, but good. Plus, “Plato the Man and his Work,” by Taylor…which might be divided up according to dialogue.

            I think if you just watch for the details, you’ll be fine with googling things. You can check out the characters in advance, find out what they represent historically. I’m sure you know enough of ancient Greek history to do just fine with getting the context. The main thing is to look for patterns. For instance, in the Republic you might wonder: “Why are we hearing about Cephalus’ inheritance in such detail? What does that signify?” Or in the Symposium: “How do the various accounts of love fit in with Diotima’s ladder?” Consider the location of the dialogue and what that would mean. I’m sure you’ll do fine so long as you read it the way you would a work of literature…taking the arguments in this context (which may reveal a bigger statement than the arguments themselves). I guess the main thing is to pay attention to those seemingly insignificant details. ESPECIALLY if they seem insignificant. Plato put them there for a reason.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks Tina. I’m grateful for the tips!

            BTW, I finally did a post on the floods. Just a personal account with only a brief mention of the global effects toward the end.

            Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’ve asked you before, but, Augustine? I listened to Confessions in an audio book and found it really painful. I’m sure I’m not approaching it correctly, but my initial impression is that Confessions was the story of a bright and healthy young man learning to hate literally everything about himself.

      Out of the Christian philosophers, have you sampled Kierkegaard or Aquinas?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I think we did talk about this. What I liked about Augustine might have had something to do with the context in which I read him. I was pushing through a huge quantity of classics for a survey class, so my mind was open to all sorts of ideas. (Not to mention the fact that Confessions felt like beach read at this point.) But I do recall finding some interesting takes on Christianity and interpretation of texts. I don’t think he so much “learned to hate everything about himself” as he already found himself in such a state. Through Plato, he made his entry to Christianity…as you’ve heard from Nietzsche undoubtedly, “Christianity is Platonism for the masses.” With Augustine I think the movement was the other way around…at least it felt that way. In any case, this movement from Plato to Christianity was for me the only way to sympathetically understand the latter.

        Yes, I’ve read both Aquinas and Kierkegaard…in that survey class. I learned quite a bit from both.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I see.

          It’s odd you said you didn’t feel sympathy for the Christians without the Platonism. How did that work if you don’t mind?

          Liked by 1 person

          • You probably know this, but Augustine merged Platonism with Christianity as far as he could. In the Confessions, we have more of the merging and less of the distinguishing that I’ve heard comes in his later writings (haven’t read them). We also have a fairly materialistic starting point, somewhat atheistic. With Plato he makes a move away from materialism through reason alone. This was important for Augustine. He had to grapple, he had to understand. He was not a blind faith sort of guy. He was a rationalist at heart.

            For him the problem of evil was a central focus, a big problem he found in his own Manicheanism. In the Confessions he talks about his initial distaste for the Bible and Christian texts—which already makes him my friend at this point—but through Plato he was able to interpret Christianity in a way that solved his main problems. Evil, for him, became the absence of good, something that doesn’t really exist, in other words. Plato would call this absence of Good Necessity, admitting it as a sort of strange pseudo existence which “gives birth” to the world of becoming, the visible world. Necessity is non-being. This is where things could get confusing in the Augustine-Plato comparison, so I’ll try to explain: Augustine’s “absence of evil” is similar to Plato’s “non-being” (a.k.a. Necessity) because Plato’s giving a metaphorical account of how the world we see came to be, how error is possible, while at the same time giving a nod to Parmenides, who would not allow anything BUT Being. (No pseudo-nothing! How can we talk about something that IS not?) So Plato departs from Parmenides apologetically. The focus for Plato was not the problem of evil as we understand it, but the problem of how to establish the existence of the visible world. He was obviously working in a different religious context from Augustine, and he had a lot more leeway to discuss what he called “a likely story.” (Probabilistic, subject to change according to what makes the most sense of things.) But Augustine’s “absence of evil” isn’t too far off from Plato when you consider Plato’s reluctance to talk about the existence of Non-being…which also accounts for things that are “not-good.” For Plato this absence of Good made possible the visible world, which was for Plato inferior to the world of invisible forms. For Augustine, the absence of Good explains the problem of evil, which we can talk about because it arises only from a limited human perspective, from lack of knowledge. Very similar. Both are trying to explain something that they think should not BE, given their other beliefs. The differences are not that great when you think about it, but there is a slight ontological difference. Very slight. Still, the paradigms are roughly the same.

            Now, taking all that into account, Christian sin is not “evil” in the usual sense. It’s a lack of knowledge, or taking something to be something it is not, taking something to be a totality when it isn’t, etc. Things get more complicated here, naturally, but anyways, this interpretation would lead you to conclude that there is no literal devil or hell. These must be metaphors, anthropomorphic moral guides for people who don’t have the capacity to do the theoretical work of hashing out the problem of evil. These devil stories, then, are for Augustine myths as Plato understood them—not untruths, necessarily, but stories, some of which are paradoxical and ASK to be grappled with, potentially leading to theoretical truths for some, simple moral guidelines for others.

            This hierarchy might not be pleasing to our democratic sensibilities, but I find it preferable to literal interpretations of the Bible…which really is nonsensical when taken literally. What Augustine did was to explain how the Bible can seem nonsensical to some people, like me. It’s because I’m taking it too literally, not being subtle in my interpretation when I need to be. (Same holds true for reading Plato, although I think Plato is more deserving of such generosity.) There are, according to Augustine, levels of interpretation…I’m not sure I agree with Augustine that these levels can co-exist. Plus, He gets caught up in many problems with this NeoPlatonic synthesis, as you can imagine. But overall, I liked his rationalism.

            Okay enough. I hope that made sense!

            Liked by 1 person

  10. amanimal says:

    Hi Mike,

    I just read your replies to Tina regarding the flooding and your status – glad to hear you’re OK and hope family and friends will be – I’m still pondering the post itself and your closing question.

    Mark

    … hydrothermal vents – fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mark. I’ve been very lucky that my family have generally come out okay. Unfortunately, I have a lot of friends who have had varying degrees of property loss, ranging from ruined carpets to their whole house and cars being a complete loss, and most of them, since they didn’t live in a flood zone, didn’t have flood insurance.

      2016 is not going to be a year I remember fondly.

      Liked by 1 person

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