‘My head tells me one thing, but my heart tells me another’. A couple looking to buy a house will likely utter these words when they come across a romantic tumble-down cottage. Intuitive feelings from childhood memories or photos may entice them to buy. But is it a good choice? Will it ultimately cost them more in care and repair than an efficient modern construction.
This dilemma illustrates our common interior conflict of logic versus feelings. We may be driven irrationally by sentiment and regret the outcome. But then in the face of stiff, unyielding rationality, we strive to carve out a place for the heart.
In the past, we assumed that emotions were part of those animal instincts that conflicted with the calm logic of our eternal soul. But now we are more likely to understand ourselves through the complex interactions between brain and body. Perhaps because we remain uncertain of the mechanisms and meanings of emotions, we distrust and decry them.
Psychotherapists have built a profession out of comprehending emotions. Chemists manufacture legal and illegal substances to stimulate them. Religious traditions stir hearts towards feelings of transcendence. Adventure, meditation, socialising and music excite or calm our minds. Yet, with all this experience, we still find it hard to articulate what we feel and why. Just try changing the language of a conversation from that of thoughts to that of emotions. You will experience a jolt of resistance; a negativity that sees the former as beneficial and the latter as suspect.
Our account of personhood must include both the unsympathetic sociopath and those whose mood flows uncontrollably, whether in the depths of depression or the energy of mania. As ungovernable and incomprehensible as they may be, we would do well to avoid stigmatising our emotions.