What's love got to do with it? On the power of strong emotions
This article is about the multi-faceted quality of emotions and their value. Caveat: my truth is my truth only, hopefully, it resonates.
We often perceive feelings as fleeting, interfering impulses. Not to be trusted. Something that can lead us astray and wreak havoc. This view is present throughout literature, think Shakespeare’s Othello. The distrust of emotion permeates common wisdom. How about the ubiquitous parental advice of “Think before you speak”? And many of us would agree that, based on life experience, emotions are best kept under control. I would suggest that strong emotions are powerful resources for us to direct towards chosen goals.
I remember a particular moment in class when I was in lower sixth form and besotted with philosophy (and the philosopher). I was arguing with the teacher. “Love is not an emotion”, I said, “It’s a decision”. He did not agree. To my defiant teenage “But if you think about it…” I got a stern “I have thought about. And that’s why I am the teacher, and you are the student”.
So here I am, more than 20 years later sharing my learnings. Emotion and rational decision-making are a lot more interconnected than we may have learned to expect. If technological progress is a victory of logical reasoning, artistic achievement can be seen as a victory of feeling. Increasingly, the spheres of science and art become more interlinked. For instance, linguistics, a humanities discipline, plays a large role in the rise of artificial intelligence. And some areas of psychology, a social science, analyse the impact of emotion on human behaviour.
Feelings are complex catalysts for action. Not something to be dismissed or suppressed. Words used to label feelings can show a conscious commitment. Feelings may give rise to wonderful, lasting results.
What then are the gifts of feelings?
The gifts of feelings
Emotions are sensations, which despite being unique to each individual, allow us to understand others on the innermost level. As much as each feeling is unique to an individual, there is some commonality in the way we sense our way through reality. This allows us to empathise. Empathy, in turn, is a healer. A lot of counselling approaches recognise the role of empathy in effective therapy.
Emotions are an essential part of being human and, when shared, move not only individual people and small groups, but whole nations.
Emotions are powerful drivers but they must be coupled with intentional ethical action to deliver positive change. Love, a noun, could very well be defined as a feeling, an emergence of sensation in our physical system. But what about the verb to love? It implies action. There is a clear element of intentionality and moral value in one’s action of truly loving another human. It goes beyond the initial spontaneous joy and excitement. It is purposeful and dutiful. After all, we promise to hold and to cherish, in sickness and in health. Strong emotions are catalysts for enduring action.
Many poems and pieces of music have been created in the throes of passion. But even negative emotions can be channelled towards constructive outcomes. Ever felt rage coming over you like a wave? Making you want to smash a plate, punch a wall? Good. Use that drive and go on a run, do a kickboxing session. Or even pick up a large canvas and paint. Let the rage out, listen to what it has to tell you, consider the new beginnings it may bring
A few words of caution: Emotions are finite, so perhaps best to use them wisely. Someone I hold in high regard once told me “Emotions are scarce resources. Don't use them up before your time.” I did not believe it. Turbulent feelings arose in me in abundance and without effort. Scarce? Pass the anti-depressants, I need to tame mine. With time, I came to realise emotional capacity indeed had its limits. The strange indifference that descends from crying a lot? From falling in love too readily? Yes…
In conclusion, what are the main points?
- Emotions lend us great power. They are an essential vehicle for connecting with others.
- When coupled with moral action, feelings are a powerful driver of positive change.
- And, finally, emotions are precious resources, best used sparingly.
Would you like to explore your emotions and how to create a better future with what is available to you? Do reach out, it would be great to hear from you.