Thinking (T) versus Feeling (F) – Part II

The rider and the elephant

The rider and the elephant

We’re completely rationale and objective beings. Right?

I know that you can detect the fallacy of that statement. We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, ruled by our feelings, whether we acknowledge it or not. You probably know someone who believes himself to be completely rationale and objective, but whom is instead ruled by emotions and biases just like everyone else.  You may think, as I have for many years, that though that person can’t see their biases, you are completely free of bias and are completely rational and objective.

In our defense, we can’t help it. We’re hard-wired to behave this way, according to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind. Haidt contends that we’re ruled by our inner emotional ‘elephant’ instead of, as we believe, the rational elephant rider. We make emotional decisions (via the elephant) but the rider then rationalizes the decision after the fact. This dynamic pretty much makes us all hypocrites according to Haidt since we are constantly defending the irrational.

Since Haidt pretty much blew my mind with this concept, I have attempted to be more observant about the thoughts and assertions of mine and others. Am I being a hypocrite again? How do I feel versus what do I believe? When I take a step away from my defensiveness, I have to admit that the thoughts and feelings don’t always jibe. In other words, sometimes when I really stop and question the rationality of my own assertions, especially when someone is looking at me in that “are you serious?” manner, I find that my own justifications just don’t hold water.

As a result, I’ve begun to modify my stance on the ol’ Myers-Briggs T vs. F dynamic. I used to think it was far superior to be a T, i.e. making decisions based on thoughts instead of on feelings (F). However, since we all make decisions according to our feelings, I’m starting to think/feel that a T is really just more likely to rationalize those feeling-based decisions compared to an F.

I don’t have the slightest bit of evidence for this theory, but to the degree this seems to be true, I feel absolutely embarrassed on behalf of all the other T’s in the world!

In the end, I believe the Aristotelean philosophy that finding the right balance is the what we call wisdom and the T/F spectrum seems to be no exception. I’m not ready to eschew my T side, but perhaps find more balance for what was probably an over reliance on T on my part.

That feels right to me. How about you?


I’ll Be Happy When…

What came to mind when you read this sentence stem? Did a couple of goals pop into mind?

On my list during my lifetime included: when I pass this test, when I finish school, when I get that job, when I go on vacation, when I get married, when I have a family, when the kids are independent, when I get promoted, when I retire.

Sometimes those goals were not quite as lofty or distant: when I get home, when I finish that project, when/if I get that grant.

I’m old enough to have actually achieved most of those milestones. And yes, I am actually happy when I reach one of those milestones.

For about a nanosecond.

Given this bad habit of living in the future, writing my annual report has become one of the best days of my year. That exercise requires me to acknowledge all that I got accomplished during the past year instead of my usual MO of just breezing by those milestones without even so much as a mental pat on the back.

Sick, right?

Have I just gotten into some weird habit of perpetual delayed gratification? Or have I developed some masochistic Puritanical guilt for enjoying life? Regardless, my underlying dysfunctional belief system includes the lie that I have control over the future and that my external world determines my happiness.

Living in the past is just as bad. Living in the past may mean ruminating on ‘what if’ regret statements or harboring resentment from past transgressions. Sometimes these misdeeds happened decades ago; I sometimes hear (adult) people complaining about resentments that have occurred during childhood.

Alarming, right?

The dysfunctional belief system around living in the past includes the lie that someone else or something else from my past is in control of my current happiness.

You can see the fallacy of both future/past foci: that external events control my happiness. No.   Rather, how I choose to arrange my inner world determines my happiness.

Furthermore, that choice is pretty much the only thing I have any control over at all. I have absolutely no control over the past except for how I choose to view the past. I have little or no control, really, over the future. I can influence the future, yes, but control? No.   9/11 taught me that lesson.

So it seems to me that the best option is living in the present. Living in the now means to be totally engaged with my present reality. The task at hand. My immediate environment. The person I am with. Whether I choose to judge my current circumstances as fantastic, pretty good, or awful, or to just acknowledge it without judgment. That choice will determine how I feel in this moment.

Consciously make that choice in this moment to create love, awe, and inspiration and refuse the choice that create anxiety and resentment. It’s in your control.

Sweet, right?

We Are Inconstant

Despite the many problems we have in this country, we are still among the most fortunate people in the world. While we must continue to strive to improve our country and our world, we also should not forget that we have probably the highest quality of life in the history of mankind.

That privilege, however, will not likely last forever. Our individual fates are also fragile: it only takes an accident, a major illness, job loss or natural disaster to turn our fortunes around. Here by the grace of God…

I know that everyone knows this on some level.   But it’s all too easy to forget and behave as if this privilege is our right and ours to enjoy forever.   In fact, everything is impermanent and subject to change or loss.

Strangely, I’m grateful for when we have a hurricane and we lose power for several days. Such a loss provides a vivid reminder for how dependent we are on the things we take most for granted. When the power goes out, we disconnect from the TVs and computers and spend time walking and visiting with our friends, family and neighbors. We spend more time attending to our food and physical environment. We never take a balmy evening or a cool breeze for granted when the heat pump is on vacation.  And when the lights come back on, we have a precious few minutes before we start to take the electricity for granted again.

Spend a minute thinking feeling gratitude for the following items that we tend to take for granted. Which of these are you most likely to take for granted as being constant in your life? Going forward, see if you can remember to be grateful every day for some of the things you’ve been taking for granted:

  • Clean air
  • Water – clean, accessible and plentiful
  • Sewage services – down the tubes without smell or contamination
  • Electricity – lights, refrigeration, washer/dryer, HVAC
  • Shelter – warm/cool and dry
  • Clothing – sufficient in quality, quantity and even style
  • Ready transportation and good roads
  • Food – plentiful, safe and varied, and even prepared for you sometimes
  • Friends, family and neighbors
  • Technology, like Star Trek
  • Entertainment – 24/7 of all kinds
  • Safe community
  • Community and government infrastructure – stable and largely functional
  • Health care – accessible and comprehensive (for the most part)
  • Good health – body and mind
  • Jobs and economic opportunity
  • Education – at all levels for all people

Let us savor our good fortune.  Let’s hope it lasts.