One More Time, With Feeling!

Once again I am reblogging a post I wrote several years ago that still retains its relevancy — I hope. In our day the mantra seems to be “Do what feels right!” We not only regard the release of uncontrolled emotion as a good thing, we sing its praises and television reinforces our adoration with images to athletes and spectators “losing it” while involved in athletic contests. The attempts to excuse Serena Williams for her raw emotion at the U.S.Open recently is simply one more example of which I speak. In any event, our notions about “honesty” or “true feelings” contrasts sharply with the views of the Greeks who insisted that Temperance, the control of emotions, is one of the highest of virtues. But, then, talk about “virtue” is also passé. Our love of raw emotion goes hand-in-hand with our distrust of reason and this, too, contrasts with the Greeks. To be sure, the Athenians were not perfect, But, at the same time, we might learn something from them.

The president of the Baltimore Ravens, Stephen Bisciotti, recently held a press conference to rebut allegations that his organization had the Ray Rice CCTV tape for many weeks showing him beating his wife in an elevator before it was released to the public and should have acted much sooner then they did. I won’t go into the details of his talk or the reasons for it — the subject has been “out there” for weeks and is getting tiresome. Domestic violence is just plain wrong and the song and dance the NFL and collegiate sports engage in to skirt the issue is simply embarrassing. But what interested me was the general response to Bisciotti’s talk, which was held to be in sharp contrast to an earlier press conference held by Roger Goodell who struck many people as too remote and lacking in emotion.

Bisciotti was received with much greater enthusiasm: he showed “feeling,” and “emotion.” He “seemed sincere.” Goodell, it was said, seemed robotic and lacking in any real sense of remorse for failing to deal with the Ray Rice case in a quick and summary fashion. The implication here is that Bisciotti is more crediblebecause he showed more feeling. Say what??Strange that so many folks (and I admit my sample is not very large) weigh feelings as the most important criterion in determining credibility, when, in fact, feelings can (and do often) go awry. They are, after all, what brought about Ray Rice’s attack on his wife in that elevator. Have we come to that point as a culture, where we dismiss reason even though it is what enables us to approach truth as best we humans can — at times crawling and at other times blindfolded? I’m not saying that Goodell is a reasonable man (on the contrary), but just that his appearance as “robotic” and “unfeeling” puts people off. We don’t want cold hard facts; we want folks like Goodell to show deep remorse, and doubtless a bit of weeping and gnashing of teeth would be in order. Quick! Get a close-up!! Maybe tearing his hair out and perhaps a handful of mea culpasthrown in for added effect. Then we would believe him.

In his dialogue Phaedrus, a novel about love, Plato has an image of a chariot pulled by a black horse and a white horse. The black horse represents the passions that are always struggling to gain ascendency; the white horse represents the gentler emotions, like remorse, sympathy, and compassion; the chariot is directed by reason that seeks always to keep the others in control. The horses provide the energy to pull the chariot, but reason is required to give the chariot direction. What Plato was going for, it seems, was some sort of balance — a notion that was precious to the Greeks going back at least to Homer. And it is precisely this sort of balance that is lacking in our culture today. The charioteer is asleep at the reins — or watching television.

I suspect the emphasis on emotion and feelings — even passion, as when Oprah Winfrey urges us to “follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose” — came about as a result of the general conviction that reason has given us such things as science and science, in turn, has provided us with the Bomb, pollution, and industry, which is poisoning our air and water. And this is natural; to an extent there are some grounds for this concern. However, reason is a small candle that is absolutely necessary if we are to find our way out of the dark morass we have gotten ourselves into as a people — and, assuredly, we are not facing serious global problems because we have been too reasonable!  The rejection of reason and reliable, verifiable facts (as opposed to opinions or “alternative facts”) is certain to lead us deeper into the darkness. Bear in mind that feelings include not only compassion and love but also fear, envy, rage, and hate. They are not always the best of guides to conduct, or to the truth — as we can see if we pay attention to what is going on around us these days

This is not to say that feeling and the emotions (the white horse) should be ignored. On the contrary. Fellow-feeling, compassion, and a lively conscience are necessary if we are to build bridges toward the rest of the human community. But raw emotions, especially passion — as suggested by Oprah — are not the answer. Balance, as the Greeks saw so clearly, is the answer. Balance between reason and the emotions. It matters not whether Goodell or Bisciotti show us real “feelings.” What matters is that they tell us the truth and that they act in such a way that the violence in the NFL, and elsewhere, decreases and players and spectators — not to say all human beings — show respect for one another.

Domestic violence is a cultural phenomenon that, like any other serious problem, is not going to be solved by making passionate speeches and weeping in public. If it is to be solved at all, it will be by means of a carefully considered program that informs and, when necessary, punishes those who are guilty of such things as child abuse and wife-beating. Feelings alone can be totally unreliable, just as reason alone can be cold and calculating. What is required is a bit of both.


8 thoughts on “One More Time, With Feeling!

  1. “If it feels good, do it.” or the Nike slogan, “Just do it.” Bullies and cowards: welcome to the world of the psychopath. Ironically both trends, the emotional or the reasoning, have been harnessed to serve the purpose of predatory capitalism through consumerism. During my many years at Coca Cola that company received much negative publicity. Their response was, ‘That’s advertising we don’t have to pay for. All publicity is good publicity. All we want is for them to hear our name – they won’t make any other connection.’ Indeed, just like organized sports, through thick and thin they came out ahead with greater profits. By and large people are unreasoning creatures, even when they claim reason as their modus operandi, for example atheistic Darwinists who replace morality with science. As you point out, there is no balance. For balance to apply it must exist within the individual. We cannot expect to reach a state of balance between opposing factions.

      • Gosh… now you make me feel guilty that I never read or studied Socrates. He must’ve been a pretty smart guy. I studied another philosopher by the name of Sokitomi. I believe he was Japanese and postdated Socrates by a few thousand years, his name showing up, if memory serves in a song by Aretha Franklin, then on Roman and Martin’s Laugh In. I think the point of his philosophy was, let me have the whole thing, like now! There could be balance in that, couldn’t there?

  2. Balance. Such a simple concept, and yet we seem to get further and further away from it as time passes. I know individuals who lean too heavily toward the emotional, and also those who are staid and devoid of emotion. I find both annoying. But when it comes to the public & political arena, it seems that emotion rules the day. Far too many don’t want facts, but are carried away on a wave of emotion that determines their decision-making. One might have expected that humans would get smarter with the passing of years/decades/centuries … that we might have learned from the mistakes of past generations. Turns out, we don’t.

    I’m pretty sure I remember this post from when you originally wrote it, but it is just as applicable today as it was then, so thanks for re-posting it!

  3. Dear Hugh,

    Anyone of Italian descent can tell you about the releasing of emotions meaning little to maybe, something. Anyone in trouble can exhibit emotion which can mean nothing to maybe something. The only true emotion that what I want to see when a brute has harmed another is remorse, accepting responsibility, a real attempt at restitution, etc.

    Raw displays of emotions without balance, is not likely to add a positive note in any given situation. Exceptions to this would be for example, someone who is grieving over the recent loss of a loved one.

    Hugs, Gronda

    • Following Plato, I would not characterize remorse as an emotion. I would say it is a feeling. He distinguished between the black horse of raw emotion and the white horse of the “gentler” feelings. But, he thought, balance is the key to human happiness.

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