“We must blame the thief first before we say that where the owner put her property was improper.” – Yoruba proverb
It is not appalling that fear grips us when we are faced with the unknown. Science says that “fear is an emotion hard-wired into all creatures”. Like all emotions, it is programmed into the nervous system and works instinctually. In the case of fear, it is more or less like a defence mechanism that alerts us to danger and prepares us to deal with it. Thus, it is natural to fear things or situations that make us feel unsafe or unsure, whether we can see them or not. Almost all our emotions work along this process. They are instinctual and allow us to feel the wonderfulness and threats in our environment. They form the centre of our uniqueness, and thus the most important part of ourselves that we should be conversant with. Interestingly, many of us are not.
It may not all be our fault. The focus of our education systems the world over has always sought to develop our intellectual quotients. And it is understandably so because we desire all people to be logical in their relationships, whether at work or at home. We want people to be able to understand data, shift through them for information, and carve a knowledge base which they can apply in their work and everyday interactions.
We want to inculcate the ability to analyse and connect the dots in every person, so that individually and collectively we can research challenges and develop solutions for them. We want individuals and teams to be smart; we want them to be as objective as possible, so that together we can build a free and just society the world over. In simple terms we want the best in all things, so we spend a great deal of time and resources training the intellect.
But why do we spend all that effort training the mind, when the centre of our gravity is our emotions? Research after research has shown that no matter the height of our intellect, the way we feel affects how we analyse whatever is before us. For example, if you have strong negative emotions about a product, a situation or a person, the probability of making negative conclusions is high; and it does not matter what the actual facts on the ground dictate. The opposite is also true. It is part of who we are, something we all share. Our feelings control our minds. It is our centre, our gravity. Thus, for any person to be objective, that individual must first learn to control his or her emotions before they can see things for what they are.
Maya Angelou once remarked that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. This is how we live. So if a person makes you feel tight, or gives you the jitters, you are most likely to pass over that individual even if he or she is intellectually equipped to perform a better job. We witness this in our workplaces, in our politics and even in our spirituality despite the commandment that “we should love everyone like ourselves”. It is the reason parents have favourites amongs their children.
How we feel is the foundation of how we think, and ultimately how we relate. If you take the concept of trust, many of us would argue that we trust people because they display a certain level of integrity. What they conveniently forget is that they first had to grant opportunity to those individuals to prove themselves; an opportunity that is grounded on how they first felt about that individual. That is our emotions at work.
If we could commit ourselves to learning about our emotions, understanding them and controlling them, then our experiences of life would become more objective and we would relate fairly and freely with others. We would learn to walk better in the shoes of others. More importantly, we could learn to separate praise from flattery, and save ourselves from being stung and swindled. It is no secret that many of us have fallen for compliments that made us feel warm and gooey inside; and we unknowingly gave opportunities to individuals who ended up ripping us off. When people make us feel good, we unconsciously let our guard down. It is a testament to how insidiously our emotions control us.
Whether we believe it or not, our emotions control us – even the smallest of them. They are what holds us together as individuals. When we do not learn control them, our thoughts, words and actions fall apart. And in the words of William Butler Yeats, as captured in his poem The Second Coming: “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
As the world renews itself we are challenged to learn, to understand and control our emotions. It will not be easy for many, since it involves us learning to continually accept being humbled. It is a kind of letting go and finding yourself, which leads to an understanding that we need to have the courage to die – and die continually to ourselves in order to live and live well. But if we take the risk we will learn new things about ourselves, and about life, that will make us better individuals who make the world a better place for ourselves and for all humanity…
Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and feel that which is true, and helps them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]