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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Reflection

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

Still reading and still listening to Robert Solomon.


The latest thing that has got me thinking is what he has to say about reflecting on our emotions. It's not simply a case of being conscious or not conscious of emotional experiences: there is a whole scale of awareness.


We can notice the sensations, the posture, the activity that is evoked by an emotion - prickling skin; hunched shoulders; or rapid, aggressive movements, for example. And the relationship between emotion and physical expression is, in a limited form, a two-way deal. By raising the chin, dropping shoulders down and back, standing up straight, we can feel a little more positive, a little more confident. Prepared to face the fray.


We can notice that we are feeling bad. Or if might take someone else asking, 'Why are you in such a bad mood?' That could be the first time we 'notice' that we'd been stomping about and slamming doors.


Further, we can sense that we are experiencing anger, say, rather than fury or irritation.


We might realise that we feel angry because some project that we hold dear has been denigrated or negated by our manager.


But if we look harder, we might notice that the boss reminds us of our father and that we always feel angry when people who remind us of our father stand in our way - even if they have a valid argument.


We might also notice that we are bestowing on them a petty-mindedness, say, which in fact their actions and words do not support.


We also might notice that we had set ourselves up to feel angry by our self-dialogue on the way to work, 'That small minded idiot will never approve of something genuinely creative.' this is precisely the procedure that Spinoza recommended to achieve equanimity.


If we reflect further we might realise that in these situations, anger is not a successful strategy. That could lead us to control expressions of anger - or, better, help us to develop a habit of not getting angry in such situations. That is the subject of another post.


It seems to me that there is a moral case for reflecting on our emotions for three reasons.


Firstly, our emotions have an impact, for better or worse, on our lives and those around us - and if they are a) not successful strategies or b) not warranted or justified by the circumstances they can have an inappropriate, unnecessary or false effect on our lives and the lives of those around us.


Secondly, because our emotions can lead us to 'bestow' positive or negative value judgements on others, if they are unwarranted or unjustified, our emotions can lead to us living in a false interpretation of reality. While it might be beneficial to bestow beauty on our beloved, it is not so good to bestow good character or a sociopathic bully with whom we happen to be in love. Nor is it good to bestow ill intentions on those who have a different political perspective, for example.


Thirdly, I think we have a duty to consider whether our emotions are effective strategies and also whether they are ethical strategies. If they are ineffective strategies, then we are making our lives worse by employing them. As for the ethical argument, Solomon cites the example of a department head who got angry (genuinely angry) in departmental meetings and would stand up (he was a tall man) and express his anger. So, most of the time, he got his way. His strategy was effective as no one wanted to face up to a big, angry man. But is that a morally good way to behave? To beat people down not by force of argument but by scaring them into submission? Is it ethically admirable to get one's way, in another case, by crying and seeking to elicit sympathy? Both of these, and many other examples no doubt, seem to me to be manipulative.


In fact, this is a pet peeve, overwhelming generosity or compassion can be rather stultifying and prevent others from being able to feel anything other than morally inferior, recipients of kindness rather than agents, deserving not by virtue of their individuality but simply by being a means for the other to express their good-heartedness. Or maybe I'm just a miserable, ungrateful bitch. Which is possible.

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