A Delaware Wave reader sent me this note: “My ‘new age’ friends are always telling me to ‘Go with your feelings and say what you feel.’ But is it advisable to just blurt out whatever pops into my head — right, wrong or indifferent?”
Well, Dear Reader, there’s more to life than feelings. Emotions are, of course, part of who we are, and to deny them is unhealthy. But they’re not necessarily facts, and it’s never advisable to voice your feelings without first checking in with reality.
Consideration toward others is fine, but let’s start with respect for yourself. Have you ever spoken your “emotional mind” to somebody and then felt foolish afterwards? If so, that’s a clear signal that you’re not backing up those emotions with thought. And that’s the key: There are times and places for expressing your emotions, but it’s unwise to blurt out what you’re feeling without first giving yourself time to think.
This is particularly important with email, texting and all that. People tell me of their regret over sending emotional emails to personal or business associates. “I wish I had worded it differently,” they lament. “Now it’s engraved in stone.” Email offers instant gratification in an age of real (or imagined) “attention deficits.” But instant gratification comes with a price. You could end up feeling foolish (at best), or (at worst) damaging a relationship.
Stand behind your feelings by thinking before you write (or click). Thought provides the big picture that feelings can never provide. Feelings tend to focus on “right now,” whereas thought helps us focus on facts that might not feel relevant at the moment, but could become relevant. Maybe you feel like yelling at a friend or other important person. Yet, if you hold your tongue, you might reexamine the impact on this person you supposedly care about.
Rational thought can also help you evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of lashing out at a stranger. Of course there’s the safety factor and the humanity factor; not to mention how you’ll feel after you overreact to a stranger’s actions. Somebody’s irritating behavior on the road, in the grocery store or at a restaurant could simply be ignored. Is there a need for escalation? Probably not. You can be more effective by pausing and thinking.
Saying what you feel before employing rational thought is like expecting to buy something for nothing. It’s like wanting people to respect your point of view without your having to provide facts to back it up. When you blindly say what you feel, you are, in a sense, trying to “sell” an idea or a perspective that’s your own. That’s fine. But you have to consider the person who’s “buying” what you have to sell. Is he or she going to accept it merely because you say so? You probably wouldn’t, so why expect it of another?
There are ways to keep your feelings in check. Before sending an emotional email, write it out and send it to yourself first. Sleep on it. Make sure it says what you really want it to say. Before having an emotional conversation, rehearse it or write a letter without sending it.
The point isn’t your words as much as the thinking behind them. Always consider the point of view of the person with whom you’re going to speak. That’s why writers are taught to “consider their audience.” Your personal emotions are fine, but if you don’t give some thought to the perspective of the person to whom you’re expressing those emotions, he or she isn’t going to hear you, or won’t hear what you intended to express.
So, to repeat an automotive metaphor I used a few years ago on these same pages, “Make sure your brain is in gear before you engage your mouth.” Better that than ending up in an emotional collision.
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