Left, Right, and Center

I’ve had a bit of a difficult morning. I didn’t feel quite “right.” Know what I mean? This “not quite right” brought me right into what I’ve been writing about lately, namely the murky realm of “feelings”. In fact, Deb and I are furiously writing and re-writing our latest endeavor, namely a book tentatively entitled, I Need to Tell You How I Feel. So, this “not quite right” feeling is quite like what we have been writing about; this “something”, or call it a “feeling,” may or may be terribly important, but it is real and needs to be acknowledged, examined, and valued so I can decide or discover what I should say or do…if anything. As I have written about in this whole business of “feelings,” I have allowed myself to “just feel” emotionally and physically, staving off too much thinking and certainly staving off doing or saying anything. As I have previously written, “feelings” as I understand them, are deep-seated, spiritual, and core self phenomena that then erupt first into physical, then emotional, then cognitive, and then productive expressions of feelings. You will note that the way I am using the word feelings is not to equate them with emotions, but suggest that emotions are but a subset of feelings.

One further note before I go on with the “left, right, and center” blog, if you will indulge me, please. People of different personality types and temperaments tend to gravitate towards one of the four elements of feelings, namely physical, emotional, cognitive, and productive. I tend to be a person who races right through the first three of these elements into doing something. So, my strength tends to be getting something done and fixing what needs to be fixed, while my weakness (strength to a fault) tends to be in doing too quickly and too instantaneously, often without sufficient time being spent in the physical, emotional, or cognitive areas of feelings. In the present case I have tried to allow myself to stay with these first three elements of feelings to get to an honest and appropriate place of doing something.

The “something that is not quite right” has to do with Facebook. I’m not a regular on Facebook and don’t have 700 “friends.” Maybe 50. And I don’t spend much time searching the friends I do have, except to keep up with the doings and dreamings of my friends, which is always fun. I’m sure I’m not the only Facebook guy who has been distressed by the increasing amount of advertising on Facebook, but I can tolerate that because I can just scroll down the page. What I have found, however, is that I am not tolerating increasingly vitriolic, one-sided, and mean-spirited political/social statements. I wrote to my Facebook friends some time ago that I would no longer respond to such statements, even to “like” them because I found it was not good for me to do so (read: “felt” bad to do so). This worked for the most part, but I still get postings of such statements, often from dear friends, that stir less than valuable feelings with me. In other words, I am not any better after having read such postings. Rather, I am worse, whatever that means. I have been musing about this matter for some days, if not weeks, and have worked diligently to follow my own advice on feelings: first physical (pit of my stomach not right), emotional (largely sadness), cognitive (agree, disagree), before I do something. But I think I have come to honestly decide what to do. But before I identify what action I intend to do, let me tell you my dilemma, which is the “left, right, center” part of this blog because I am quite left, quite right, and quite center on things social, political, and religious.

For instance, on the matter of LGBTQ, I suppose I am quite to the left. There is little doubt that one’s gender orientation is largely, if not entirely biological/genetic in origin. I have seen many gay patients and friends over the years who admit that they have never had heterosexual interest. While their reports do not amount to a scientific study, there are studies that are quite solid that seemingly prove that fact, not the least of which being the lack of any person every having “changed” from homosexual to heterosexual. So on this matter, I am quite left of center, if we use that term, but I am not left on all things.

I find myself quite right of center on several matters, including minimum wages and unions. I think, forgive me my left-leaning friends, but I think unions have long outlived their usefulness and have for years only entitled a very few at the cost of many. And as for a minimum wage, the current direction of companies and corporations are moving towards better hourly wages all on their own. You can’t find a job in Madison for less than $14/hour, which by the way is $28,000 a year. Here, capitalism works, at least it works when we don’t have monopolies.

Unfortunately, monopolies of any kind tend to protect the few at the expense of the many. Monopolies, by the way, would include unions, but also Google, Amazon, and the like, not unlike the monopolies that my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, Republican by the way, attacked. He also attacked violence begun by unions. Oh, for a person who could see both sides of the social/political spectrum today. So when then there is a free flow of opportunity, capitalism works just fine, but any kind of financial control makes capitalism only for the rich and powerful.

So I’m on the left and the right on such things, but there are many more phenomena, some social, some financial, and some racial that push me to one side or the other, not being able to find comradery with anyone. The idealist left-leaners had a good heart, but not a good head, when they instituted entitlements in the 1960’s, these entitlements keeping many people in poverty and dependence. Mean-spirited punitive measures by the political right have been no better with its insistence tax decreases for the rich. I was raised largely in the 1950’s that included (Republican) President Eisenhower suggesting that people making over a million dollars should pay 70% taxes. This “I have the right to what I want” attitude on the right infuriates me just as much as someone who panhandles on the corner right next to the Kwik Trip sign advertising for workers at $15/hour. I was caught in that dilemma when I debated about buying and giving blankets for the homeless not long ago thinking they should “just get a job” and then within an hour found myself buying 6 blankets for them. Free apartments: is that going to help them? No apartments: is that going to help them?

There are many more questions than there are answers. How, for instance, do we deal with the 100,000 migrants last month who sought asylum in America coming from gang-run poverty-ridden countries in the “northern triangle” in Central America. Good minds and good hearts ought to get together on this one and find a solution that is generous and reasonable. My own thought would be to cut our $650 billion for Defense in half (or more) and find ways to really invest in Africa and Central America, not just in dictators and despots. But mine is a simple answer, not more valuable than President Trump’s simplistic solution of a wall separating us “haves” from those “have nots.”

So am I right, left, or center. Depends on what you’re talking about. And it probably depends on what I have heard on the news and what I have read on Facebook. So my decision…or is it a discovery…is that I will “unfollow” my friends, both on the left and on the right, who stir me to distress. I recently and mistakenly responded to a deeply passionate post about “30 Christians murdered by Muslims in Nigeria,” and found my response was less than valuable, and the responses I heard in return lacking in a wider view of life. I don’t need the distress, much less than challenge of someone’s feelings. I should know better. And I certainly don’t need to end up in some kind of fruitless tit-for-tat with people I respect, love, and simultaneously antagonize if I speak my feelings. So for now, goodbye to some of you. I wish you well. I really do.

I feel better. Now about “feelings,”…

Difficult, Meaningless, Necessary

There are some things in life that are enjoyable and some that are not. Ideally, we have a majority of things in our lives that are enjoyable and then a few that are not so enjoyable. I want to share some ideas and experience in the whole business of “doing what you don’t want to do but seems necessary.”

Really necessary?

Not all things that seem necessary are really necessary. This is the real tough question that we need to face when confronted with the seeming necessity of doing something. And this question is not easy to answer. Let me give you an example. I just made a call to an agent of a company that we do some small business with. Luckily, I got voicemail so I didn’t have to talk to “Laura,” whoever she is. She’s probably a nice person doing her job somewhere in New York or South Dakota. Maybe she works at home and just calls customers. I didn’t really want to talk to Laura, but it seemed a gesture that might take me a minute or two to do, so I made the call. The “please call Laura” note was on my desk for 4 or 5 days. Another document on my desk is a form that I have been asked to fill out for a research study I’ve been in at the University of Wisconsin for 10 or 15 years. I am still staring at this document that I have been asked to fill out. They even promise me for it; I can’t remember how much, maybe $25 or $50. I don’t want to do this but it seems that I “should.” Since I’ve avoided filling out this document for a couple of weeks, I’ll probably get around to doing it today unless something more important comes across my desk. I also made a call to a test distributer this morning that I had been postponing for a week or so, and go my desk is almost clean from stuff I don’t want to do. And I have what insurance companies call a “preauthorization” form so we can get paid for the psychological testing that we do all the time. It’s a chore, but I can usually get it accomplished in about 5 minutes and then give it to Cheri to kindly put it on the Internet to the insurance company.

These trivial tasks are not particularly important but do take some emotional energy, whether avoiding or doing, because they are things that I don’t want to do, things that don’t really give me much pleasure, aside from having them off my desk. But larger questions and seeming important things are harder to decide about. Deb and I have a supporting wall in our house that seems to need some repair, probably serious repair. I have looked at this bulging wall in the basement for years and haven’t decided what to do, or if to do anything about it. The decision about doing something about the collapsing wall is much more serious, much more costly, and much more something that I don’t want to do. (I would hire it out, not do it myself.) It is notable that there is a certain amount of emotional energy that goes into the thinking, feeling, and wondering about such projects.

Emotional energy

This is quite important, namely that “things that I don’t want to do but seem to things that I should do” take a bit of a toll on me, as they certainly do on you. The question is always first, “Should or Should not,” but then the questions “When and How?” come up pretty quickly. While waiting and wondering, it is impossible to put such things entirely out of you mind, so there is a tendency to think too much, worry too much, and probably avoid too much. Such decisions, namely the “should/should not/when/if/how” questions are not easily made. There is always a cost, not only a financial cost, like with the basement wall, but also the emotional cost, and the rational cost. So, should I fix the basement wall for maybe $10,000 or give that amount to the Salvation Army folks who are ministering to people in Indonesia? Too often people end up thinking too much while trying to push their mixed feelings away.

Dealing with the emotional element of such questions is of utmost importance, but this is no easy task because it means, without a doubt, that you will have some loss. You will lose something and gain something. You will buy something and have less money, or you will not buy something and do without the something that you want. So there is no way out of feeling sad when you face such decisions. Deb and I have written extensively about this in our book noting that sadness is an essential element in life. And it is certainly an essential element in decision-making, especially when it comes to large and important decisions.

The four questions of decision-making

We have worked with this “four question format of decision-making” for some time and have found it valuable. The four questions are:

  • Is it necessary to be done?
  • Can I do it?
  • Do I want to do it?
  • Should I do it?

Answering these questions is not as easy as it might seem. Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that you ask the third question, “Do I want to do it?” because most people skip right over this question having answered “yes” to question 2, “Can I do it?” mistakenly thinking that if they are capable of doing something, they should do it. When someone is capable of doing something, sometimes s/he wants to do it, sometimes not. Finally, when you get to the fourth question, “Should I do it?” the answer could be “yes” or “no” but the answer needs to be whether you really think that you should do it or not. This is complicated because sometimes the “something” shouldn’t actually be done, at least by you, and sometimes the “something” should be done by you. Here is where you have to be very honest. Just because you don’t want to do it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it; just because you want to do it, doesn’t mean that you should do it. But know this: when you actually decide to do it or not do it, you will feel both joy and sorrow: joy for having done it and sorrow for having done it; or joy for having not done it and sorrow for having not it. You have to accept both of these feelings. You might profit from the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule

We use the “80/20” rule in such things, i.e. life should be about 80% about things that we enjoy and about 20% things that we don’t enjoy but seem necessary. But we also know that the lives of many people don’t reach the 80% enjoyable, and sometimes barely reach the level of 20% enjoyable. We meet such people every day in our work and often in our other contacts in life, whether friends, family, or brief encounters we have.

This is a whole lot harder than it seems to do. You can assess how you are doing in your life of doing and not doing by seeing how much of your life you enjoy. Hopefully, you enjoy most of your life, like 80% of it, because you are doing most of what you want. It might be helpful to consider the “spectrum of like/dislike” that we often use.

The Like/Dislike Spectrum

Consider the following spectrum of what you like and dislike from strongly like to strongly dislike with several stops in between:

Strong positive                                    Neutral                                    Strong negative

______________________________________________________________________________

Necessary //Good (for me) //Important //Like// Dislike //Unimportant //Bad (for me)// Harmful

Consider something, someone, some place, some idea, or some project in your life and see if you can place that thing, person, place, idea, or project on this line somewhere. You may have, for instance, an acquaintance who is not particularly important in your life but you like him, or you may have someone who had a place in your life that you really like and hence is “good for you.” Now consider a project that seemingly needs to be done and place it on this spectrum, say, on the “negative” side of “don’t like” very much. Once you place the project on this line, you will see that it is a bit easier to decide whether to do it or not do it. Just because you really like a project doesn’t mean you should do it, and just because you really don’t want to do it, doesn’t mean that you should not do it. Just note how you feel, which is the operative word. Once you see how you feel, you can respect your feelings and then proceed with deciding whether to do the project, like it or not, do it or not. You have been honest to your feelings first, then have taken action (yes or no).

Difficult, necessary, meaningless

Perhaps the most meaningless tasks I have to do are the insurance preauthorizations, namely filling out an inane form that describes in objective forms what I am doing with a patient in subjective terms. How can I quantify that I care for him and see my caring as important? How can I quantify the profit that may come to a child with whom I just play marbles (because neither of her parents ever plays with her), perhaps giving this girl a sense of joy and connection? You may have some meaningless things to do in your life that are necessary for you to do, just like it think it is necessary for me to see little Sarah. It’s a small price to pay.

On the other hand there are many meaningless things that are “bad for me” or “intolerable” after the system of like/dislike noted above. Then, no matter what the cost, no matter what the loss, no matter what anyone thinks of me, I shouldn’t do them. Know that there is some danger of “pushing” the “don’t like” way out to the harmful on the spectrum just because you don’t like it.

The task is to differentiate the truly necessary and valuable in a world that seems to require some much meaningless activity. So, by the way, I have successfully avoided completing the University form in favor of doing this blog.

Let Me Tell You About My Feelings

Remember Far Side cartoons created by Gary Larsen? They were often with animals having some sense of human feelings, often a deeper sense than many humans actually have. Or, Larsen would have a group of people allegedly thinking or doing something that was an exaggeration of some human tendency. I miss Far Side. The cartoons made me laugh at myself and humanity without derision. I remember one in particular that has to do with legs.

The “leg cartoon” as Deb and I refer to it has led to our rather frequent expression of “legging” and “leg people.” The cartoon is one picture of several folks in a bar setting. Everyone in the bar has evidently been in some kind of accident and has had some kind of amputation. Hence, all these people have some kind of peg replacing their lost appendage. There are several people with peg legs, of course, which is what we normally think with some kind of amputation. There are also people with peg arms, peg hands, peg feet, peg ears, and the like. There is also someone with a peg head. This is a barroom scene, so people are evidently talking about the accidents or illnesses that caused them to lose part of their bodies. Seems reasonable.

There is only one caption at the bottom of the cartoon, evidently a statement being spoken by one guy at the bar to another guy at the bar. The inference made from the caption is that the guy with the peg head has just explained how his head had come to be amputated and replaced with a peg head. The guy speaking has a peg leg; the guy listening in the one person in the bar who has a peg head. The caption reads, “That’s nothing. Let me tell you about my leg!” Get it? The guy with the missing leg thinks that his loss of his leg is more significant than the guy who has lost his head!

Do you know “leg people,” i.e. people who always want to tell you about their “legs,” i.e. what is going on with them, what they think, what they feel, or what they did? I know many such people, some very particularly. Perhaps more importantly, I notice that I have “legs” that often seem more important than the peg legs or even the “peg heads” that the other person is talking about. In such circumstances, I want to tell my story. I want to have air time. I want someone to hear my feelings. But in that moment I have run over my friend’s leg story, arm story, or head story. It is a challenge to listen while I have my own legs while hearing my friend’s legs.

Listening

Deb and I have been working furiously on our most recent book project, tentatively entitled Let Me Tell You How I Feel. If you have read some of our blogs over the past year you will notice that we have written quite a bit about “feelings.” I suggest you review these, particularly the one on hearing feelings. In brief review “feelings” would be a central ingredient of a person, closely aligned, or perhaps a representation of one’s “inner self.” We think (abstractly) of a human being as composed of concentric circles: God or godlike at the core; then “core self” (some people talk about inner self, spirit, or soul); then the next concentric circle is the gifts and abilities we have, some natural, some learned, some enhanced; this third circle is followed by an expression of these gifts, often in words but with an orientation that is physical, emotional, productive, or cognitive. Our focus in the book is to help people express themselves (this would be the third concentric circle) and take the consequences of this expression.

First of all, note that all these terms are abstract and representational. Furthermore, none of these terms is definable. We note that all the really basic elements of the universe, like time, distance, and mass, are undefinable. Velocity is defined: distance over time, and weight is defined: mass times gravity, but time, distance, and mass are not defined. Likewise, many elements of the human experience are not defined, like love, mind, and even life. We put “feelings” in this category of undefined elements of life. We understand time, life, love, and feelings by observation and effect. What is the effect of time, love, etc.? How do we experience such things? This is how we come to understand feelings: observation and experience. Then we do the hard job of communicating this undefined important matter.

The communication of “feelings” is fraught with danger, not the least of which is the danger of thinking that I can communicate feelings precisely. I cannot. But that does not mean I shouldn’t make an honest attempt to communicate my feelings. I just have to keep in mind that I am not an ET of the 1980’s movie who could just “beam” his feelings to someone else. We are not ETs. We have to use words. Or perhaps other means of communicating like play, work, art, music, or dance. But most of us use words, which is implicitly challenging.

Challenging as it is to express and ultimately communicate feelings, it is much harder to hear them. Hearing someone express feelings causes a host of challenges for the listener, not the least of which is his/her own feelings. (By the way, we make an important distinction between feelings and emotion understanding that emotion is but a subset of feelings, but this is not the time to discuss that important matter.) The important factor in our present discussion is to note that when someone expresses feelings, the person listening will have feelings. If the listener is working to understand the speaker, he must know his own feelings, value these feelings, and keep his feelings to himself. Otherwise, he will be talking about his legs. Nothing wrong with legs, but they intrude on the listening process. This containing one’s feelings while listening is no easy project because everyone has legs.

What I have come to do is simply listen to the “legs” of the person talking to me, and do my best to understand my friend’s story. The more difficult task is when I am speaking about my story and my story is interrupted with the other person’s legs. Painful as it is for me to stop telling my story, I am often required to do so. I like to think that this is an act of grace on my part, but I sometimes render this grace with less than true graciousness, and maybe a bit of resentment. I have come to believe, however, that the person with the legs needs to tell me about her legs, and let it be. Thank goodness I’m a therapist.

Further Reading

Previous blogs on feelings

Forthcoming book on Feelings, probably available in a few months in manuscript form