Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 2, Emotion

emotion: (n) a subjective experience in response to other people or events; feelings; neural activity in the limbic system

Emotions are highly personal experiences for which we give words that congregate around ideas of energizing and calming, desirable and undesirable feelings. Excitement and anxiety, versus relaxation and boredom have a lot in common neurologically. One Christian likes “Onward Christian Soldiers”, another “Awesome God”, most like “Amazing Grace”. 

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are full of references to God and Jesus experiencing various emotions. God delighted in creation, but by the Flood was frustrated and disgusted with how humans had messed up his creation. Jesus voiced gratitude at Mary washing his feet, exhaustion from the crowds wanting to be healed, and terror at his impending death. 

As stoic as my family and early church experiences may have appeared, we did not escape emotions. We mostly pretended that they did not exist, or at best did not matter. “Happiness is for happenings. Joy is for Jesus” (whatever that meant, though I suspect that it had something to do with avoiding greed and sex).

Emotions are a dilemma for the evangelical Christian. Emotions are the realm of temptation and impulsive decisions, the Devil’s playground, the slippery-slope to sin and back-sliding. Emotions are also the passion of the worship service. The Amen pew. The raised hands. The praise band. The alter-call. 

The emotional range that I recall from my youth was mostly fear. Guilt for sinning. Guilt for thinking about sinning. Guilt for the inevitability that I would think about sinning. Fear of hell and damnation. While singing “Amazing Grace”, the emotional energy was mostly about that Wretch Like Me.

What has the Republic Party been preaching for at least 50 years, then epitomized by Trump: the politics of fear. Blacks were about to overrun our cities, drain our coffers, steal our (white) men or women, take our jobs, move into our neighborhoods, kill unborn babies, and maybe shout “Hallelujah, Amen” in the middle of the sermons. Scientists and professors were going to teach our children that they evolved from bacteria to fish to monkeys to humans, the world will end in a fiery desert of global warming (when Armageddon and Hell should be its fiery end). Communist (aka socialist {aka Democrats}) are fomenting rebellion of the masses and tech companies in order to prevent owners from amassing as much wealth as possible and make workers/employees slaves.

For all the talk about joy and love, what I mostly observed from evangelical Christians is an emotion of fear and distress.

Can we tap into this emotional experience for reconciliation?

I have spent a career listening to people who live in an emotional world of fear. What I have found is that they want to talk, to voice their fears, give them words, and be allowed to fear. Rather than trying to convince people that their fears are unwarranted or unreal, listening, empathizing to the nature of their fear is more useful. Once the fear has a name, we can then have a discussion about that fear. When we understand the source of the fear, we can begin to recognize why people act to control or eliminate that source.

Let us also recognize that many political parties, caucuses, PAC’s, SuperPAC’s, think-thanks, foundations, etc. attempt to gain and control followers by fear. They have no interest in reducing this phenomenon. But, an individual, when approached as an individual, has the potential to contemplate and put personal experience into words and ideas. Individuals within a group are not the group.

When individuals begin to recognize their fears, and the actions which those fears lead to (executing people on death row, hoarding guns to protect themselves and their families from thieves and rapist, building walls around their homes/neighborhoods/nation, separating immigrant children and parents to teach them that we do not want them coming here…), they have a chance to repent. Forgiveness 3.0 can become forgiveness 2.0.

Before we can address knowledge and beliefs, we must address emotions… or, as I have experienced, being in the counseling business, when I am unable to verify whether the stories that someone tells me are accurate, I should address the distress which the person expresses through their narrative. This can be the beginning of connection, healing, and reconciliation.

When Jesus healed people, he saw their demons, those obsessive emotions which trapped them in disruptive behavior in the eyes of their community. He connected with those fears and cast them out. He forgave the the sins which bound them, and instructed them to no longer sin. His empathy for their emotional distress allowed them to heal. But, connecting with the possessed person was not sufficient. They had to change their thinking and have faith.

Thus, we next move on to knowledge as a means of empathy and restoring relationship.

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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16 Responses to Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 2, Emotion

  1. Emily McKenney says:

    Hi Oscar…again!!! I am enjoying your blogs and am sending you a daily meditation that I have been enjoying. Maybe you would like to subscribe to it too. Love, Emily


  2. As we Francos would say, I think you hit the nail right on the piton. I will be reading this again. Your statement about guilt and fear struck a cord. I was raised as a Catholic, and there was plenty of guilt to go around. However, other emotions were allowed,too. Joy and happiness were never suppressed. Also play and fun were a big part of our lives, for adults as well as children. Playing together as a family was very common. Perhaps that comes with being Franco-American? Work hard, play hard? Anyway, lots to think about in your post.

  3. Brother Dave says:

    Yes, we are a family of stoics, but but playing on fears seems to still be a good stratagem for raising money, even from unemotional people. Since Dad’s not here to open his junk mail, I’ve been combing through it to try and get him off their mailing lists. Today I’ll be phoning the group that sent out the “National Survey on Abortion Extremism.”

    Perhaps stoicism is just a coping mechanism and learning how to connect to emotions is helpful for both parties when it comes to forgiveness.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      We used to say we would live as long as someone remembered us. Now we will I’ve as long as our social media and junk mail continue to be opened by people. One cyberbot said to the other cyberbot, “The old normal: if a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it, did it exist? The new normal: if a social media post/junk mail is not read by anyone, did it really exist?”

  4. Oscar, this was so good! I love the whole paragraph “Before we can address knowledge…”
    That is so wise! I am all emotions and, I realize they are often baseless. Or worst, based on fear.
    Blessings! ♥♥

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Emotions are completely valid, and essential, to experiencing life and our daily tasks. Combine those with knowledge and beliefs. Then you have a full experience and potential for wisdom. Continuing reading (I just put up my post on knowledge, get a cup of coffee first. Beautiful dawn here in the mountains with 2 inches of snow over night).

  5. Indeed, the key, to me, is not to let the emotions take control and blind me to everything else (easier said than done)
    It must be so beautiful where you live.
    Now to reading the other posts 🙂

    • hermitsdoor says:

      If you wish to pictures of our place, go to the Farm Life Series that I have written about it. I’m not sure how wordpress page looks these days, but it used to be on the right had column among the other categories of stuff that I write about.

      • So cool! I have already started browsing. I will go back and start with the first one, as time permits. And the way you write, it is almost like being there 🙂
        Thank you Oscar! ♥♥

      • hermitsdoor says:

        Rather than writing every year about picking berries, I set up this series as one time essays on some topic of living in nature and having the farm very close to the table. Thus, each post addresses one topic. Enjoy

  6. It will be fun to read 10 years of Farm Life ♥♥

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Once I finishing beating empathy to a pulp, I’ll get back to the garden and some new Farm Life posts… assuming that I can figure out how to move photos on my iPad (new skill set for fumble fingers).

  7. I have sympathy for empathy 😉
    I have faith in you- you will get it! ♥♥

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