Our emotional experience is incredibly important. E-motion is what puts us in motion. If we have feelings, we do something. It is harder to mobilize if we are neutral. Actually it might not even be possible to act without some feeling about what we are doing. In some fantasy olden days, people did not care about their emotions or each other’s emotions either. I’m not sure if that was ever true.
But right now, right here, we sometimes think our emotions are the most real part of who we are. We expect that our emotions are somehow coming from some deeper, more authentic part of our make-up, and they expose us for our fallibilities and weaknesses. We want to honor our emotions; express them; understand them; analyze them; use them as “gut instinct” and just generally let them run our lives.
But emotions are learned. They are the responses we were taught to associate with various experiences and those we generated out of fear, misunderstanding, or rage. They are not meaningless; and they certainly deserve to be taken seriously. But they are data. They do not tell us something more true about ourselves or each other than our thoughts, values, or choices tell us. We are complex beings with multidimensional meanings attached to our experiences, and we act out of a complex web of motives that is informed by our place in the larger world, historic events, cultural meanings, early learning, and physical realities.
We cannot be truly free to flexibly and thoughtfully respond to the world, each other, and ourselves if we are reacting out of unrecognized habits of thought and feeling. Our freedom comes from seeing our distortions as clearly as we can and reflectively and intentionally choosing how to understand and respond to our everyday lives. Of course we do try to manage our feelings. It’s just important not to let our feelings manage us.