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Psychology: The Emotional Point of View

To assume an emotional point of view. At first glance this statement might impress us with the idea of a somewhat out of control reaction to a situation. That is, emotions in contrast to a rationale point of view. Of course, this distinction is utter nonsense, or perhaps better phrased as udder none-sense. In reading through my notebooks, I came across this quotation I took down while watching a movie quite a while ago...

You're able to assume the emotional point of view of other people, even those that might scare or sicken you. It's a troubling gift I should think.

Soon after this I heard:

We live in a primitive time, don't we? Neither savage nor wise. Half measures are the curse of it.

The words were uttered with a frightening sense of calm and poise. I'll leave the reference to the end.

I think that, perhaps, this ability to assume an emotional point of view is in sharp decline, if by this we mean the ability to authentically frame our rational selves within the context of empathy, compassion and understanding. A great deal of the self-help section seems to offer titles that invite us into ways and procedures for controlling and shaping our emotions. Yet, at the same time, it is entirely possible that what we are attempting to control and shape is that which is most needed. And that which is most needed may not feel too comfortable.

To assume the emotional point of view of other people is to place oneself at risk. The risk is experiencing the felt-meaning of another person, especially if that person is in difficult circumstances. Often we turn away, or, more frequently, look upon the situation without emotion. In the case of a destitute homeless person on the street wearing the grime of our own society we may cast a few coins, or decide it is better not to for fear of what those coins may be spent on. More recently, we might wonder if the coins we toss are helping to pay a mortgage. In any case, we proceed with our daily busyness. And this, perhaps, is a lesson mastered from group work and collaborative learning.

Another quote,

Fear is the price of our instrument

Of course, we are now beginning to see the beginnings of the inevitable wash of books that counter prevailing trends. One example is the idea of "slow." After all the hype about speed, it is only too apparent that slow must become commercially viable. Overexposure to connectedness and connectivity of many shapes and flavours demands a retrieval of another potential bestseller - aloneness. It is perhaps true that, immersed in our extensive vaults of knowledge, we live in a primitive time.

Fear retrieves commercial opportunism.

So we connect and find ourselves alone. We preserve our aloneness and find ourselves reconnected. We go too fast and find the need to slow down. We go too slow and have a need to speed up. Connected, alone, fast, slow. Then more books and consulting.

Concepts are lifeless in that they frequently do not refer to a single human life - the real experiences of real people. Concepts are safe. They can be written about, discussed, argued, debated, modelled, taught, tested without getting under our skin. Even emotion has become a concept void of emotion. And in this version of safety is an immense risk.

The ability to assume the emotional point of view of another may be a troubling gift, but it is nonetheless an essential aspect of learning. At the same time, not all gifts are used in beneficial ways, as the author of the above quotes, Hannibal Lecter, reveals.

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Hi Cyn,

Synchronicity again. It was during my "absence" from writing here that I wrote an entry about tears in one of my - I don't know what to call it - journal. Tears are a sign of strength, although many might have us believe otherwise. Those that feel crying is a sign of weakness are dreadfully insecure in themselves and attempt to project that inner insecurity as outer strength. Perhaps one day I'll have the nerve to write those thoughts about tears here.

Your thoughts about risk are interesting too. In a way, we can think of a risk as intuitively sensing we have to do something while embracing the complete uncertainty of where it might lead us. But the greater risk, as has been said in many different ways, is in not embracing the risk itself. We become disconnected from our own identity, and we know that what we are doing is somehow not quite right.

Control is in many ways an illusion. Strategies, models, theories, visions, methods, processes, aims, objectives and goals bring ideas of control to mind. Yet the world constantly demonstrates that our control is more an act of our imaginations than an authentic reality. Believing that we have more control than we really do, it seems to me, is a huge risk. As an aside, when I designed the Connected Intelligence Program, I was consciously seeking ways of breaking down certain control mechanisms while at the same time promoting some desperately needed risks.

I think about my two kids. As much as I can, I try to have a positive influence on them, often by exposing my own limitations to them. At the same time, I watch the various influences that ebb and flow in their lives and realize that risk is more common than control. And this is exactly what I want them to embrace. As long as they are in touch with what's deep inside and they listen to it, that is all the "control" they need.

Sometimes I see parents controlling their children to such a degree that they nearly completely obliterate any sense of individuality. Often, they project their own inner fears and protected short-comings on their children in a sincere attempt to help them. Of course, their intentions are good, but the results are quite often not the best.

What are we disconnected from? The first thing that comes to mind is that we are disconnected from ourself. Emotions are part of that disconnection. At the same time, it's hard for me to imagine emotions being something disconnected from thinking. That is, that there is such a thing as thinking or intellect in the absence of emotions. I really like Candace Pert's work in this area (

Ah - love. Well, all I can say that for me that is an area of life that has definitely been a trial by fire;-)

Hi Rob,

Wonderful context here. I have sometimes closed my eyes in order to try to listen to tone and inflection more closely. It's an interesting experience and one that I think comes from my close invelvement with music early in life. I have found that, often not always, musicians have a much greater sensitivity to changes in the sound of a voice, its rhythm, pitch, and timbre.

I like that you referred to this kind of sensibility as an innate ability. I would not characterize this ability as something specific to emotion, but as having a close connection to it. Emotion talks - quite literally. I have, I probably shouldn't admit, tried the same words and phrases with different people using various kinds of body language, tone and so on. It's quite interesting to see the results.

"But few of us are any good at reading this sub text anymore. Many don't even listen for tone - let alone look for context. More and more people have become so busy that they are shrunk to being literal"

And it's a shame, made all the more unusual by the fact that we live in a world that speaks about the need for connection, yet the tone of voice and authenticity of gesture is bland. Perhaps connectivity has shrunk us into global literalism.

BTW - do read Timothy Findley's "Inside Memories" and you will find some captivating thoughts about dogs.

Hi Pearl,

Nice to hear from you again. Your questions are interesting ones. In my own interaction with people, I find myself more in tune with body language, gesture, the rhythm of speech, tone, and so on. The words being used are of course important, but sometimes I watch and listen for other cues. For some reason, I'm more sensitive to these kinds of things than words alone. I've also found that often, not always, I get insight into a person's motivations and underlying meaning in this way. In other words, my own perception tends to be biased to what is often referred to as "felt meaning." At least, that's what I would characterize it as.

Sometimes when I watch and listen to other people communicating with each other, I'll hear conversations that seem routine and somewhat repetitious. When in meetings I'll hear the words people are using knowing full well that the underlying meaning they hold is different. This, to me, is one of the reasons that meetings are often unproductive and accomplish little if anything. It seems that much of our interaction is void of an emotional point of view, that is, a connection to our deeper selves.

It seems that today we are immersed in a population explosion of visionaires. Yet so many of these visionaries, over a relatively short period of time, reveal an acute stigmatism and lack of peripheral vision. These are a visions confined to tunnels. Perhaps this sounds quite arrogant of me, but in all the explosion of ideas, knowledge, information and so on, there is an underlying sameness to it all - a similar kind of life cycle.

In school, students are taught information and knowledge that is quite frequently void of a human story or life values. One of the results of this is that these experiences are amputated from their context. And I would suggest that this is an underlying effect of education - we become amputated not only from other people, but from ourselves. The outside world comes charging in, while our inner world is implodes. We wonder why students struggle to find their path in life, their purpose, their career. And if they struggle, we assume they are somehow deficient. I think that in some ways we are encouraging this deficiency in them through a constant imposition. In other words, I really don't think, in general, it's their fault.

Last year it was announced that 40,000 Ontario high school students have dropped out of school ( I have watched the reaction from our government - and there is nothing to watch because nothing has been done. It is not hard to imagine how these students must feel, yet they do not even get a single phone call nor are they presented with alternatives to school. With all the platitudes that come from on high, there is clearly a lack of any meaningful sensitivity to these student's lives - even though the words used attempts to indicate otherwise. I can only conclude, in part, that an emotional point of view is possibly in sharp decline with repsect to these people.

Sometimes I wonder if we live in fear of facing ourselves.

Great 'I'm back' post Brian.

Are we not socialized to hold back our emotions from an early age? We start out crying, it's our only way to communicate, through emotion. It's all our brains will allow us to do when we are babies.

We start learning that crying is not the preferred way to express ourselves the first time we hear, "'s okay.....shhhh". We have fallen and hurt ourselves or we are angry that we did not get our way. It's NOT okay, we want to show our emotions.

I've often admired people who cry easily. I see crying as the purest of our emotions. When I cry I lose control and I feel the risk, but I do it anyway. Initially, I fight to postpone the burst for fear that I will lose control but when I do, it feels right.

It is a huge risk to live by the heart, but I think living by the heart is where we make the real connections. We spend so much time finding ways to put blocks up so our heart does not get exposed. As you say, Brian, we retreat when we feel disconnected, but what are we disconnected from? Are we in essence pushing away from a potential real connection? We are all the same in one sense. All afraid of losing control by taking such huge risks.

For those of us who have experienced falling in love we know rationale thinking plays little part in our actions. We can feel the pull directly from our hearts, it's so powerful that it even feels physical, and yet it is pure emotion that drives us to pursue. Even with positive emotion there is risk.

So we learn from Rob's dogs.
And we put down the books and we sit by the fire and we strain to hear the whispers in our hearts.

Dear Brian
Welcome back. Emotion or innate wisdom? Can we "read" the meaning or the emotional context behind the words?

Is this idea a new age weirdness or have we indeed lost something? I agree with you Brian that we are losing something. A recent project and my growing connection with my dogs has awoken in me an understanding that there is a an entire "old language" that rests beneath words.

Jevon has just completed a community tool for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing at York. They insisted that we include a video chat function. At first I thought that this was to enable many to sign (ASL is for many their first language) but now i am beginning to understand that a deaf person cannot hear tone at all. So where does the true context for the words of another come from? from the many expressions of the eyes and the face. So like many scientists in Gladwell's book Blink - they have had to become masters not only of reading lips but of reading faces. We can all do this but if we are deaf this skill becomes vital. Lip reading is a tiny part of what they read. They read our emotional state in our faces. They can tell if we are sincere, if we are bored, if we lie, if we love them or despise them - all without a word being said.

But few of us are any good at reading this sub text anymore. Many don't even listen for tone - let alone look for context. More and more people have become so busy that they are shrunk to being literal.

But John had it wrong - In the beginning was not the word but the gesture or the visual que. Man surely for millennia or even millions of years, like apes today, lived in complex social groups using sounds and gesture to convey complex emotional ideas.

Our closest friend the dog is the master reader of this language and hence has a place by our fire and in our hearts.

My dogs can read my emotional temperature with exquisite skill. As I learn their language - sounds, ears, teeth, tail, back, foot placement - I too begin to understand a complex emotional language. They tell me a lot of things about how they feel and they reflect back to me how I feel. No wonder we start to look like each other - dogs are emotional mirrors.

Surely humans relied on this emotional and physical language for millions of years before we mastered speech? As we became literate and then literal, we have lost this innate ability.

I love Julian Jaynes's idea that the Gods ceased to speak with us after we learned to read. In a non literal world, the voice of the Gods is loud enough to hear and is no metaphor. Today, they are only a whisper that we have to strain to catch.

My plan for the rest of my life is to relearn this old language. I long to visit Olympus and to bring the Gods back to life

oh, and glad to see you posting again. :-) Happy World Poetry Day

>this ability to assume an emotional point of view is in sharp decline

Why do you think it's changed? and where? globally? personally? to low ebb cyclically in media?

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