While we might not fully understand it, we’re clearly emotional creatures: living gives rise to responses on the level of feeling, as we process situations in that way. It’s as if we can view life with the eyes of the mind, or those of the heart. That may be a confronting reality for the predominantly rational West, but it’s an interesting one to try and work with skilfully.
Because the heart doesn’t seem to have that clear a place within conversations of the mind; its voice often being dismissed as irrational, sentimental, hysterical, or ultimately unproductive. As if feelings are this passing wave that’ll even out with judicious application of more logical wisdom. As if emotion isn’t a valid way of reading life, understanding events, and responding with the full depth of our humanity.
Yet feelings also hold a strong position within modern life, particularly in the realm of culture: music, films, literature all tapping into that wellspring of our heart-felt connection with life and one another. And then, slightly differently, through the reactions of the media conversation: that echoing of events through the mouthpieces of news organisations, echoed again through the world’s social media response.
Within those cultural conversations, the heart seems to find a place. But is it a wise place? A skilful use of feeling? An avenue that’ll lead emotion toward becoming a powerful, considered voice within local and global communities?
It often seems to struggle to progress much beyond an indignant, strangled scream. At times it seems to pool together into something we make an identity of; the grooves of our patterned responses to life and the affinity that can create with others. Which, perhaps, might be seen as a commodification or containment of feeling’s power.
But, if modern life’s giving rise to strong feelings, what ‘is’ the right way of handling them? Do waves of reaction simply become these self-reflexive amplifications of anger, despair, sadness or joy? Does culture become a venue for dwelling in our emotions and the social realities inspiring them, placing us in these perpetual echo-chambers of our own feelings? Is letting ‘all that’ define us the correct path? (Notes One)
As I said at the start, the extent to which we understand emotion’s place and work with it purposefully within our personal and social lives is one of many interesting challenges to being human. We ‘have’ emotions, but that doesn’t mean we automatically know what to make of them. And it also doesn’t follow that modern culture knows the best ways to capitalise on the heart’s value for the good of society (Notes Two).
Thinking we know what’s best for us, or that what we’re offered are wise and constructive paths, seems so questionable. Algorithms might be designed to analyse our moods and feed into them, but what is that food? Is it medicine or poison? Are we processing our emotions or becoming trapped within them? Knowing how to direct the heart seems quite essential if we’re hoping to live well.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Masks we all wear
Note 1: What’s a reasonable response?
Note 1: Reference points for how we’re living
Note 1: What are we thinking?
Note 2: Meaning in culture
Note 2: Dystopia as a powerful ideal
Note 2: The power of understanding
Note 2: Playing with fire?