Tuesday, February 10, 2009


"All of our reasoning ends in surrender to feeling." -- Blaise Pascal.

I've been mulling this quote over for awhile and still am not 100% certain what I think about it. But I believe there is something true lying beneath the surface.

When I was younger, and to a much lesser extent now, I did most of my living in my head. I could think or logic my way out of most negative or inconvenient feelings, suppressing them until I thought they were gone. Of course, I was just lying to myself in a fairly elaborate way. I don't believe that I was terribly unique in that approach, but perhaps I turned it into more of an all-encompassing thing than most folks do. And, in the end, the feelings escaped anyway.

I wonder why I thought that was an acceptable approach to life. Was it fear? That may have been part of it. In the case of my long, too long marriage, I forced myself to accept emotional sterility because I didn't want my children to grow up poor due to their parents being divorced. That was a personal demon carried forward from my own childhood. So, perhaps, it was understandable albeit unacceptable. And, frequently, rejection at the hands of others led me to hide my feelings and desires, believing that there must be something lacking in me or wrong with my feelings. It never occurred to me that the source could be anything other than something missing in me.

I don't think that fear would account for every instance where reasoning is given higher status that feeling. Modern humans have elevated reasoning and logic to a dizzying height at the expense of feelings and intuition. Even the antonyms to the words "logical" and "rational" have strongly negative overtones. They aren't just opposites, they are wrong and unacceptable. It is as if by denying inconvenient feelings we can pat ourselves on the back for being logical or rational, no matter how desolate the lack of responding to our feelings may make us feel within ourselves. I have been guilty of this for large amounts of my life.

I propose that the two ends of the spectrum should be more balanced in our lives. It's not that reasoning is a bad thing. It is vital in many parts of life. But when it shuts out feelings I believe we owe it to ourselves to examine it more closely to determine if that is the best approach to a situation.

I read a book once called The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. The author asserted that if you felt fear, you shouldn't try to talk yourself out of it because, on some deep level, you had perceived a reason for that feeling. It was telling you something important about a situation and that you needed to act on that rather than dismiss it as irrational. I have come to suspect that this reasoning may be applicable to other feelings as well. We have all had the experience of immediately distrusting someone we have just met. There was no data to support this impression, but the feeling was there nonetheless. If we ignore it or talk ourselves out of the feeling, we will most likely pay for any misplaced trust.

I believe that this also applies to positive feelings as well. I think it likely that everyone has met people who they liked on first sight and went on to become fast friends with the person. Just as the fear puts us on our guard, this attraction tells us that there is something good to be experienced if we only let it.

I'm still not 100% certain what I should do with these ideas. I certainly don't want to let it devolve into a solely logical exercise. I suspect the best path for me is to make it my habit to check in with both my brain and my gut on a regular basis, see which one best addresses a situation and trust in the wisdom of either my reasoning or my feelings. At the very least it will lead me to be ever more in touch with what I truly want and need in my life, and, hopefully, to a balanced approach to life as a whole.


stefficus said...

well this is interesting. *grin* do you mind if i link to you in my blog?

i love logic. i rarely if ever think sentimentality should win out over cold, hard facts. but i also believe that emotions are not the same as sentiment, and that one definition of "irrational" is ignoring a huge resource of information simply because you can't look it up in an encyclopaedia. things must make sense. the clinical approach doesn't always do so.

i think you're right in the end - your advice to check in with both your brain and your gut is pretty much the best ever. *grin* words to live by! ignore either one at your own peril, and all of that.

(on a more personal note, maaaaaan do i ever relate to the whole "gone on too long" thing. whew.)

Knitman said...

I know that for me, I shut off all feeling when I was a child. It was too scary. I clearly remember saying to myself 'I can't feel this' and I dissociated. In 95, 98 and 07 I did finally feel all those feelings from my childhood. I know now why I couldn't feel them at the time and how my disassociating saved my life and sanity. I am only now learning to trust my feelings and especially my gut feeling. I was constantly told my feelings were wrong, my perceptions were wrong, that what had just happened hadn't happened. So learning to trust myself and my feelings is hard going for me now at 50!