My emotional growth, personally and in relationship with others, is due in large part to my intellectual grasp of the sheer logic of developing myself in that area.
This page is a stub, created on 2020-04-07 (last updated on 2020-07-26). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.
Growing up, my general sensitivity and emotions were a frequent source of pain for me. That gradually turned into a rejection of emotions, and I remember being in high school, explicitly, stubbornly, and naively trying to reject emotions in a very characteristically (and explicitly!) Vulcan way.
By college, I think it started manifesting as impatience with others' emotions, too, and not for any lack of emotions on my own part. To a large degree, my approach to philosophy, while passionate, was a passion for the logic of it; I was easily seduced by rationalism and repression.
In philosophic discourse, I was contemptuous of others' emotional contexts, intent on reaching them on "pure" logical grounds. The failure of that approach only fueled my piss and vinegar. "Emotions aren't a tool of cognition." was the Objectivist mantra I held onto, and it wasn't until I learned more about the Objectivist view of emotions and their mechanics and proper role that I started embracing them.
Gradually, without intentional effort, I started noticing that communication was much more effective when I actually took other people into account. Oddly, to this day, I still sort of think of people as just another sort of "thing" in the world, which makes them dealable-with for me and my thing-task-fact-idea orientation. (Unintentionally, I think that helped inoculate me to some extent against a lot of the pitfalls of trying to "fit in", seeking approval, and allowing social cohesion to override my commitment to be authentically who I am.)
But given how the brain works in terms of emotions and automatization, as I understood the phenomenon of other people (and their pesky emotions) better and better, I developed a first-handed experience of them as "ends in themselves". This went hand in hand with better understanding my own emotions and willingness to experience them fully and deeply, all the while refining my grasp of where they come from, how they work, how to use them, and how to change them.
Fast forward a decade from getting out of grad school, and especially after reading all of Brené Brown, I feel like I can't "unknow" what I've learned about connection and empathy over all these years.
Increasingly, I find myself automatically experiencing/feeling/practicing compassion and empathy in situations where I would have previously written someone off as just being "wrong" or even "evil"; this is because I "just know", for instance, that people are generally doing the best they can.
Everything I observe in myself and others reinforces that. I can't "unknow" it any more than I can "unknow" that 2+2=4. But while this is becoming automatic, I think it's right to nevertheless call it "unnatural"; I am still basically oriented in a thing-task-fact-idea way.
The result is that a process I have logicked myself into and which I cannot stop is extremely emotionally taxing for me, even when that process yields exactly the life-affirming, value-achieving results that motivated my learning and adoption of it in the first place.
- I need to say more here about my experience of my own emotions and more fully and explicitly embracing them. So that'll be a different dimension of this post, more self-focused than on how I've come to appreciate others' emotions. In a way, I think this is more fundamental, and it gets at what I think ends up being a very different experience for a lot of Objectivists, who end up pushing emotions away, rather than understanding intellectually why and how to embrace them and working toward that end. That is the essence of "logicking myself into emotions": Realizing through intellectual effort the value and role of emotions and deciding to pursue them. Otherwise put, the Vulcan rejection of emotions is the height of being illogical!
- A major influence in my growth in terms of discussing ideas was how some Objectivist work I had read pointed out that one of the reasons that most atheist arguments fall on deaf ears is that they are only polemical deconstructions of religious viewpoints, offering only criticism, condemnation, and derision for being illogical. Most atheists have no positive view to offer, such as a (logically valid, practical, secular) theory of ethics or how certainty can indeed be reached through a specific cognitive process. (By contrast, Objectivism does offer these things.) The fundamental failure of such atheists is that they fail to recognize the reasons that motivate people to adopt or stay with their religious views, and these reasons are deeply rooted in the properly emotional need of people to have a moral compass and the ability to live a life of purpose and certainty. I gradually realized that I was more effective in reaching people, intellectually, when I attended to their individual cognitive contexts, including their values and motivations, explicit and implicit. (Indeed, I'm quite proud of the fact that I managed to influence a few people out of religiosity through this approach, over several years.)
- After taking into consideration their cognitive contexts, which is a general principle of good communication, I started to learn that maybe I don't need to tell them about their viewpoints or what their viewpoints might be at all, but instead share more about my own process. I don't need to tell anybody what they shouldn't believe or what they should believe; I started to explain what I believe and why. I started describing what my approach to ethics and decision-making is, subtly pointing out that it's entirely secular in nature. And this approach began to generalize to many other areas of discussion: It's not my job to save anybody else's soul. Increasingly, I'm just content to live my life and be an example of my principles/philosophy in action, letting others draw their own conclusions, happily and enthusiastically sharing the approach I've found useful and which they may consider useful themselves. I may privately (or even openly) believe that "my way of being" and my values are universally applicable, but it's just not my job to convince anybody of that. Almost paradoxically, that ends up being much more influential.
- maybe something about the process of not feeling like I have to answer everything and being comfortable in uncertainty
- motive attribution asymmetry
- growing up, how much I liked the MadTV "Stop It" sketch
- crediting Diana for bringing to my attention something I hadn't been aware of explicitly before: my willingness/fearlessness to feel things fully/deeply; Authentic Relating Games night in Boulder