Monday, December 8, 2014

I can think and feel at the same time

Charles Blow says what a lot of us are starting to think about.
This is why the people are in the streets. There are too many nagging questions, not enough satisfying answers. The people want their pain and anger registered.

But in a way, this is the part that can drive longtime activists to distraction: that this kind of people power doesn’t neatly translate into political power. Why not follow the recent examples of activists for gay rights and immigrant rights, who pressured politicians and worked through the political and judicial systems to achieve specific policy objectives?

But maybe in this moment the exhaling of pain must come before the shaping of policy.
Basically what he's talking about is that people are expressing their feelings about what is going on, but we haven't seen much strategizing (i.e., thinking) about how to change things. I'd like to offer some of my thoughts about why that is and what we can do about it.

One of the main reasons the "Silent Generation" was called silent is because they were raised to hide their emotions and stay quiet about their feelings. I was reminded of that a couple of years ago when my mother's beloved dog was killed. My father hid the dog's tags from my mother so as not to remind her of her pain. He thought it was best to keep all that under wraps.

Beginning with my generation, therapists told us that there was value in getting "in touch" with our feelings and expressing them. There's a lot of truth to that. But what is often left out is that - while it might make us feel better - it doesn't change our circumstances. Too many people believed that once you expressed your feelings, you're done and all will be well. And then along came the Myers/Briggs personality test telling us that we all had a preference for thinking OR feeling.

Years ago I taught a parenting class based on the work of Jean Illsey Clarke. From the stages of child development, she designed affirmations that children need to hear in order to navigate the tasks of each stage. From 18 months - 3 years we begin to recognize that we are separate from our caregivers and learn to think for ourselves. A couple of affirmations for this stage have always struck me as critical.
  • I can let people know when I feel angry
  • I can think about my feelings and feel about my thinking
  • I can think and feel at the same time
How many times have you heard someone say, "I was so angry, I couldn't help myself?" That is a sure sign that the person didn't learn these tasks. It's a classic case of either/or rather than both/and. What they need to hear is that they can think AND feel at the same time. 

Taking this back to Charles Blow's point, this is why I tend to agree with Al Giordano.
I'm so bored with your outrage which comes only because something suddenly is covered by the media. Show me a plan, a strategy, a tactic, to change the game, and I'll get excited and active and pitch in. But your expressions of outrage are depressing, disempowering, and, even worse, they've become routine...
Don't get me wrong, going back to the era of silence about emotions is not an option. But if/when that expression of outrage is not combined with the thinking required to strategize and plan, it eventually becomes disempowering and routine. We are all capable of thinking and feeling at the same time.

P.S. By the way...thinking about your feelings combined with feeling about your thinking is the true source of wisdom.


  1. There are many groups that have had and continue to have ideas and strategies about how to combat police terror and racism....these issues are not new for the blk Bryan Stevenson said...slavery did not end it just evolved..maybe new organizations will come out of these demonstrations...maybe folks will join the organizations already you said...rebellion does not necessarily morph into a political structure...or political power...i have tweeted to some of the recognized leaders making a suggestion that it might be time to organize a plot next steps....this will be very hard to do...trying to be all things to all the protesters is not possible...

    a point...
    i find Giordano seems easy to throw stones from the outside...

    1. Giordano is not throwing "stones from the outside." He's been there. He has a history with political activism. He knows what works.

      And what is up with all those ellipses? Are you an Ultimate Warrior fan or something?