I sometimes think I have the emotional IQ of a toddler. I’m not good at the whole feeling thing. To be clear, I’m cool with you having emotion. I respect the feelings you have. My problem is that I’m not good with my own emotions. I really only register two feelings. I’ve got happy and then I’ve got angry.
I’m usually happy- until I’m not. A lot of internal work has helped me to understand I do have more than two feelings, but everything besides happy all feels the same. I don’t like how that “everything else” feels. When I don’t like how it feels I get angry.
In my vast experience over these last 33 years of life, I’ve noticed that there’s more space for emotion now than I perceived even in my mid 20’s. Feeling statements have become a big deal. I got my first introduction into feeling statements when my wife was working on her M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy. That was a season of life where I ran into feelings everywhere I turned. I spent a lot of time playing violent video games during those years to combat the encroachment of all those feelings.
I’ve come to accept that this growing acceptance of feeling, both in me and culturally, is a good thing. That’s great for a lot of reasons. For starters, people have feelings. Even those of us who pretend to be robots have feelings. To ignore that does no good for anyone. As we become more comfortable acknowledging feelings, we open new doors for conversation and growth. Even though it’s good, it’s really hard for me, and for folks like me. It means we’ve got a lot of work to do.
It’s not just the emotionally stunted among us that have work to do. A real challenge we face today is the ability to disagree without dividing. As our conversations and relationships have become more emotionally driven, we may have lost some proficiency in the arts of debate and argumentation. What’s more alarming is that we’ve lost proficiency in the arts of basic human dignity and loving our neighbor.
To feel differently than someone can’t be a deal breaker.
It’s good of us to make more space for feeling. But that space can’t come at the expense of engaging in situations and relationships that make us feel bad. To have bad feelings toward someone- whether it is because of their intellectual position or their character- is an indicator that more work needs to be done. More conversation needs to take place and more understanding needs to be cultivated.
I’m guilty of avoiding people who bring up bad feelings in me. And I’m guilty of blaming them for the unpleasant feelings that grow out of interacting with them. If unchecked, I can carry these feelings around wrapped up in a little ball of anger that I blame the offending person for. In truth, the problem is not them, it’s me.
In a context of increasing diversity, our feelings serve as a powerful guide. They make us aware of what is not working. But those feelings must be matched by a profound commitment to do what is right. I believe that right is defined by bridging gaps that exist between people and seeking to understand that which we currently do not.
Let us feel more so that we might be more aware of that which is wrong. And let us match our feeling with a resolve to dive head long into those situations and relationships that give us emotional pause because we’re committed to be people who confront what is wrong so that we can cultivate what is right.