Any given day, there is a lot swirling inside of us. There are a few things that make us human; a handful of unavoidable realities we must interact with in order to live a sane life. Generally speaking, we can sort the two dominant arenas of human experience into two categories: thought and feeling. As we process experience and information, make arguments and take positions, these are the two primary functions of the human consciousness.
But what is the relationship between the two? It can certainly seem as though they are sometimes adversaries, sometimes cousins, and sometimes twins. Our mind and our heart, as it were, have a complicated sort of connection. If we can learn how to train the two to work in concert, life can seem more like a symphony and less like an unrehearsed garage band.
An important place to start is to be clear that these are indeed two separate entities. This may seem obvious, but it bears working out. Because although we can understand the difference in theory, it often gets murky when they are swirling in the water together.
For example, I feel that all rapists should be castrated. That feels right to me. But I don’t necessary think that should be the letter of the law. The former is a raw emotion and the latter a more reasoned consideration. Neither is more right than the other. They are different. And meant to be different.
Our society is in a lot of turmoil because we do not know how to differentiate thought and emotion. We feel the way we think and we think the way we feel. It is nice for us because it oversimplifies things. It cuts our work in half.
We need to allow our emotion to occupy its arena and our thoughts to occupy theirs. It is not that the two don’t visit, collide, and crash up against one another. But if we think the way we feel, we are immature and if we feel the way we think we are emotionally stunted.
The Necessity Of Unity
In the midst of this differentiation, we cannot swing too far into the realm of compartmentalization. Emotion and thought are different, but they are dance partners. They are separate voices, but must harmonize some sort of duet.
The challenge is to have them work in unity without allowing one to swallow the other. Because there is healthy, collaborative unity and then there is oppression. A dictator holds a certain kind of ‘unity’ by tyranny, fear, and aggression.
This is not the way. If either thought or emotion demands silence from the other, we do not have a true sense of unity. We have a false-harmony that will not serve in the end.
The way we feel certainly affects the way we think (and vice versa). It is healthy for us to realize this. The next step is for us to figure out how to allow each to influence the other in an impactful and healthy way.
Perhaps the easiest secret is to think about the order. Emotion is almost always out front. It is reactionary and serves as a sort of alarm. It indicates that something is at stake and to what degree.
In a healthy system, thought takes over from there. After an honest acknowledgement of emotion and a deep breath, it is time for thought to take a turn. If we think of it in terms of a batting order, emotions are the lead-off hitter and thought comes up to bat second. Our perspective/choices bat third. And the clean-up hitter is our actions – what we do.
The goal is to have the best at-bat with each player and to ‘turnover’ the lineup – keep the inning going by flowing from one batter to the next in proper time.
Thought and feeling have a complicated relationship. How we navigate it determines the way we view the world, the choices we make, and the actions we take. Proceed with caution and proceed with intention.