How We Feel About Things

Our culture is full of explanations about what feelings are appropriate in what circumstances, and how they are to be performed in public. We seem to follow normative protocols about feelings and their expression. That means they must be socially prescribed and proscribed.

The issue, of course, is what things mean to you, given the culture and the subcultures in which you have learned how to have feelings by expressing them.

If happiness, for example, is something that happens to you from outside yourself, you have one perspective. If it is your obligation to your social circle/community to be happy (as it was for many American Indian cultures), you have a very different perspective. In the one, you wait for happy things to happen to you, and you may feel left out if they don’t. In the other, you express happiness as a cultural mandate, and by expressing happiness, you have it, you feel it.

What makes all the difference is whether or not you have chosen the feelings that you have, or they have chosen you.

This may require some reflection on your part, and here some mindful  exploration. In our culture, the possibility that one can choose one’s operant feelings is rarely considered. We are led to believe that our feelings are something that just happens to us, with no intention on our part.

In the context of the range of social possibilities or individual invention, a person could actually choose the feelings that he or she imagines might be what’s needed to further their cause in life. But in our culture, we are supposed to be the victims of the feelings that take us not where we want to go, but where they take us.

“I just don’t feel like it” is the excuse for many situations. But what we know is that competent people do what needs to be done whether they “feel” like it or not. People who are not as competent typically opt out by expressing that they don’t “feel” like doing what needs to be done. Competent people bet on themselves. Less than fully competent people bet on the circumstances, of which they see themselves as the victim.

We know that people who express fear are easier targets for criminals than are people who do not perform fear in their presence. A perspective in which you do not fear death makes it less likely that you will have to do so at the hands of your adversary. Fear in a boxing ring makes you more vulnerable to your opponent, as it does in poker.

Could you choose the feelings you want or need? Yes, apparently so. We know, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, that no one can make you feel bad without your permission. It’s not a case of mind over matter. It’s a case of making your feelings work for you rather than you working for your feelings. Being victimized by our feelings is simply a matter of the pervasive influence of the pop culture.   – Lee Thayer