Feelings are helpful, but not for idiots

January 25th, 2017 by Diana Coman

Although I write here in English and I do so as a result of thinking in English too1, I grew up in quite a different cultural space. And then I went on to live in a few different countries, choosing at times places that were really not homogeneous. Places that were even rather tense through direct - often unwilling and uneasy at least at first - interaction between several different cultures. Of those, South Tyrol comes most easily to mind, with its Italian- German/Austrian mixture that ressembles at times oil on water rather than yeast in some milk.

Given this background of mine, I am quite used to and not easily unsettled by differences that really run deeper than what people eat, how long it takes them to say goodbye or what "9 o'clock" really means for them (hint: it will mean 8:55 for the German in South Tyrol and anything between 9:10 and 9:30 for the Italian in South Tyrol who is also likely to base their calculation on a weigthed function of their own perceived importance in the group who is supposed to meet at 9 o'clock). Moreover, I am really quite simply interested in noticing differences - I actively look for them, quite as one would look for clues to solving a mystery. It's from differences and unexpected things that I learn most and what seems to be "just a small difference" at first can sometimes run so deep underground that it truly yields the most interesting facts.

One difference that most startled me at first in the English2 is the repeated appeal and questioning of "feeling" in the most unexpected and broadly least suited contexts of all. I've been asked over and over again what do I *feel* is a fair price for X or for Y and what do I *feel* is correct here and there and how do I *feel* one should proceed with Z. Allowing for difference and still at the initial stages of studying it rather than weighing it, I simply took all those to mean the only sensible meaning of what does one *think* of X, Y and Z and gave my answers accordingly, with a small emphasis on the "I *think*" part of it3, to highlight - just in case one might entertain the idea that it's really a feeling there at work rather than the appropriate reasoning process - the correct nature of the issue at hand.

Funnily enough, this apparent worship of feeling as worthy guide in business matters is in rather stark contrast with actual practice most of the time. It's almost as one might simply sugarcoat it in feelings if that can fool you or alternatively, as one's inner emotional landscape was already so arid and barren that dry calculations are the only thing that grows there anyway. I never could quite figure this out for sure4, but another bit of the puzzle has recently slotted in place: all this appeal to feelings where they don't belong might simply be the English attempt at flattery, despite the fact that any sane mind would interpret it as quite the opposite - if such mind wastes any time at all on it and doesn't bash the idiots directly.

Taken at face value, such misplaced appeal to feelings signals to me that the speaker is not worth speaking to on the matter, as they are clueless and confused at best. However, on reading how one might actually have internalised a direct link between their worth and the relevance of their feelings above and beyond everything else, I can see the sales person (despicable as I consider them anyway) at work: basically instead of stating that I'm the light of the Universe and all mighty and powerful but could I spare them some coins, they appeal to my feelings as most important and that should work - based on their previous experience with people suffering from a complete misunderstanding of their own feelings - as a proxy for making me feel terribly important just the same. Except, of course, that it doesn't work like that, not for any sane person who actually spent any time at all not only feeling, but also - gasp - thinking a bit. Thinking even about feelings and without emotion or bitterness, but quite detached and unemotional about it all. For feelings are really the most useful thing when not abused or invested with all sorts of weird meanings of self-worth or potential danger to oneself or who knows what else.

Feelings are simply indicators and quite powerful ones at that. They are however indicators of one's own internal realm, not of the reality outside it and confusing those seems to be the most common mistake one chooses to make. What you feel about something can tell you a lot about your own -and at times very deeply buried- expectations, assumptions and investments. However, what you feel about something will not tell you anything about that something itself. Taken as such internal indicators and nothing more, your feelings can reveal yourself to you in the privacy and safety of your own person and to a degree that is otherwise possible only through submission perhaps. Your feelings are the inner mirror in which you can - if you choose to - watch yourself truly naked and without pretense for they are simply reflections of your own otherwise invisible being. Like any mirror however, they are ultimately passive and non-prescriptive: they show what is there, but it's your choice as to how closely you look at the image and what you make out of it. And whether you truly look to notice or to check even subtle changes or whether you look only to obtain confirmation that nothing has changed - even as it has. As such, as internal indicators and nothing more, your feelings are the most useful thing of them all, similar with physical pain (an indicator albeit imperfect of decay and ultimately of life loss) if not even more useful perhaps.

If you choose however to basically abuse your own feelings by making them anything other than they truly are - if you make them a measure of your own self-worth or if you look in their mirror for an undistorted reflection of the outside world - you will make of course nothing but trouble for yourself. But that's really just you being an idiot, nothing to do with feelings - not even yours - at all. Your feelings will still work the same and through that very mechanism they will become ever harder to ignore and twist and abuse in the ways you insist they should be. Until one day, when you find it so hard that you give up. Whether that's the day when you give up being an idiot or give up the ghost is entirely up to you.

  1. I think and write here in English by choice and I don't mean this as a generic and overall choice, but one that I often make and then make again: I can and frequently think/write/speak in other languages too - that's what choice means, after all.  

  2. I mean here the current English-speaking mostly. 

  3. One might say that this approach is too tolerant at heart and moreover tolerant of the wrong sort of thing - I am guilty of this sometimes, indeed. Perhaps it's too much optimism, perhaps it's being a woman, I don't know. I tend though to make sure and triple-sure that things are indeed as unbelievably stupid as they seem at first before I bash them and dismiss them for good if I am indeed in a position to do so. 

  4. I am aware that it does not actually matter directly. Stupid is stupid and who cares in what precisely way you managed to be such an idiot? Well, it seems I care, for all you'd rather I didn't or at least not so much that I'd actually plainly and publicly state it, I know. 

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