Emotions and Logic…Mutually Exclusive or Mutually Reinforcing? Part 1: Mutually Exclusive So Less Emotion.

This is part 1 of a two part blog post on emotions…

We live in a world in which events like school shootings, a lone gunman firing an  automatic weapon into a crowd of people attending an outdoor concert, or a policemen beating up a person of interest or shooting and killing an unarmed individual pleading for his own safety strain our ability to understand what leads these people to act in this manner and beg for a reasonable explanation.

As these behaviors do not appear to be logical, the explanations often include some reference to mental illness and attempt to blame the behavior on emotions gone awry.

In other words, so the thinking goes, these people must be crazy to do what they did and they must be under the control of their emotions.

If they were “in their right minds”, they would control themselves and act more appropriately. The implication is that we need both more treatment for mental illness, and more  logic (less emotion) in our country.

Yes, having logical, in control, people making good decisions is both helpful and desirable. And, yes, we do need more to make mental health treatment more available in this country.

Is it possible that you can have logical, in control, people making, what most people consider very bad decisions and engaging in equally egregious behavior based on those decisions?

The answer is, “yes”.

The issue here is neither about mental health treatment or about emotions verses logic.

While I am in no way condoning the deplorable behavior listed above and it is possible that mental illness was a factor, I am questioning three primary assumptions that pop up every time some outrageous behavior appears in the news:

1. All human behavior is either logical or it is emotional.

If the behavior is logical, it is appropriate, controlled, and understandable.

If it is not logical, it must be emotional (erratic, driven, devoid of logic).

2. Any behavior that doesn’t seem logical to us must be the result of emotions gone awry.

If the behavior is illogical, it must be due to emotions which have hijacked the person and are causing the deplorable behavior.

3.  Out of control behaviors imply the presence of mental illness.

So, you are either behaviorally stable or mentally ill.

The implication is that we need more logic and less emotion.

If emotions led to insane, out of control people, we’d be crazy to want more emotions.

Indeed, nobody wants crazed automatons running around doing dumb destructive things. No argument there, we all want to avoid dumb destructive behavior.

But, bad decisions and the undesirable behavior that follows from these decisions do not necessarily prove the presence of mental illness.

And, the unfortunate spin-off from demonizing emotions in the case of egregious behavior is that all emotions (when experienced and misunderstood) begin to be seen as “bad”, “undesirable”, “intrusive”, etc.

Let’s dive a little deeper….

While there may be a modicum of truth in each, statements 1, 2, and 3 are for the most part limited, misguided, incorrect and misleading.

  • Statement #1 is a false dichotomy.
  • Statement #2 implies that one’s emotions have become both autonomous and cancerous.
  • Statement #3 implies that anything we do not understand must be attributed to an underlying disease process.

So, if the issue is not the behavior on which we all agree, what is the issue that we need to discuss?

This is the critical question.

The answer is not the emotions, per se, although how we deal with our emotions is an important topic.

Rather, the critical issue we need to discuss is how we, as a culture, and you, as an individual, view emotions.  In other words, what do you think emotions are and how do believe they impact each of us?

If your picture of emotions is that they…

  • force an out of control road-rage crazed driver to shoot at another car, or
  • leave the out of control cop with no other alternative than to shoot or beat up a perpetrator, or
  • compel the out of control  spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend to beat up their significant other, or
  • cause the out of control  co-worker  to get angry with  and demean you, as a female, when you point out their inappropriate behavior in the office,

then, yes, less emotion is needed.

But, what if your picture is inaccurate?

“Out of control” implies that feelings….

  • have taken over,
  • are totally controlling,
  • are forcing and compelling a certain behavior while eliminating alternatives, and
  • are causing the individual to engage in the clearly unacceptable behavior they’ve displayed.

Take another look at these words…

>taken over  >totally controlling  >forcing  >compelling    >causing

These words imply that the individual’s (male or female) emotions have transformed this person into a  robot.

In this picture, emotions and logic are mutually exclusive.

  • You are either an emotional time-bomb waiting to explode with no logical fail-safe mechanisms in place

or

  • You are an unemotional, logic-only Vulcan (think Spock in the TV series StarTrek) who has eliminated emotion from his life.

I am suggesting that emotions and logic are mutually reinforcing and when used together can lead to better decisions and more appropriate actions.

This is where we’ll begin in Part 2.