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Emotion – the main driver.

Recently I’ve been wondering about ‘emotions’. I think most people can understand that emotions are often set against that which is logical. Immediately I can imagine a few getting ready to yawn in expectation of another tale about Mr Spock (his usual debates with Capt Kirk and Dr McCoy). Well no such thing today.

I was driving to work when it suddenly hit me that emotion is simply (or simplified by me as) a ‘driver’. I can hear that ‘idiot in my head’ going, “What do you mean?” already. So I distract myself to explain that. A ‘driver’ is some thing that pushes or causes a person or system to act. No apology from me for not making it any simpler.

Mr Idiot, now asks “So why on earth do you think about these things or how do they come to your mind?”. Oh dear, I could be here for days. Let’s just say I have an obsessive pre-occupation with how the human mind works (or not). Can I get on with it now? Let me try.

In my reflections on the human condition (including my own personal experience), I’ve come to notice that people act largely because of three main things: 1) Discomfort 2) Pleasure 3) Emotion. Whilst Mr Idiot will assert that these are all ‘feelings’, I’m not in for a debate today about how I distinguish one from the other. In essence it is no surprise that ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’ are drivers in their own right. However, ‘emotion’ is a bit different.

Think about anger, disgust, joy, love, hate, frustration, shock, surprise, disappointment, sadness (list not complete) etc. What do these emotions do? Well firstly emotions are a response to something. It’s about a person coming to a new awareness. That awareness could have been brought about by them analysing situations for themselves or by new circumstances bringing them to a new awareness. But what happens next as a result of the experience of emotion is where I want to put my focus.

I’m not about to analyse each emotion. I’ll take anger, frustration and disappointment for starters – as these are most identifiable in personal experience. What do those emotions do to the person experiencing them? I’m not talking about physiological changes such as ‘elevated blood’ pressure or psychological things such as feeling stressed. No – I’m taking about what is the ultimate effect of experiencing those emotions after all the blood pressure changes, rapid pulse, and feeling stressed. Well, I can safely say that a person is usually driven to do something about that experience of emotion(s).

What they do next about it may depend on a host of personality factors one may assume. However, simple things like physique or gender may have an important primary determining effect. [I choose my words carefully e.g. primary]. If a stranger approaches you and punches you in the face on the side of the street for no obvious reason. Your first response emotionally (including the physical pain etc) is likely to be shock, anger, disgust, surprise etc. If your assailant is a 6’ 5” male muscle bound hulk, and you’re a 5’ 2” skinny whimp I think it’s safe to say that you will automatically (rapidly) assess your emotions and realise that retaliation in an emotional state is unlikely to be ‘productive’ or safe. I’d say that probably accepting the shame of running (if you can) at top speed is a better option.

But what if the situation above (however strangely, is reversed). I think the probability would be that if you’re big and powerful you’ll probably come to think that you can retaliate or get one back. So in that situation you could in your estimation let your anger etc vent on your seemingly puny assailant. If he happens to be a Taekwondo expert or is armed with a concealed knife or gun, you’ll discover that later – to your further ‘discomfort’.

The point I’m trying to make here is that emotion drives some instinctive response or action – but the actual expression of the response is affected by other things.

Now consider people who have to cope with intense emotions who do not have well developed cognitive capacities. Surely cognitive capacity may restrain and facilitate, at the same time, expressions of emotion. A person who has an extremely low IQ of around 40 (lower end of normal being 70), may have less restraint in acting out on their anger. They could (and I’m not speaking about an individual) come to unreasonable justifications for acting out violently or holding a grudge. But we need not even look to intelligence quotients. Culture also may facilitate expression or non-expression of emotions. Some cultures are quite reserved whilst others are ‘frank and physical’.

So at this point it’s obvious that I’m considering emotion as a driver but not keeping it separate from ‘restraint’ (s). Indeed some emotions can act as ‘restraints’, to some degree e.g. sadness, or feeling fed up, exasperated, or worn out. But even those emotions can drive a person too, to take action. It becomes murky. Whoever said the human mind was simple?

Where is all this going – you may now be wondering. Well, the ‘driver’ has to be considered in relation to things that shape action. Think of an archer aiming his arrow from his stretched bow. The ‘driver’ is the energy he exerts. The aim is determined by all the things that count to his skill. But what is that skill? It is his ability to remain steady, calculate the trajectory and compensate for external factors such as wind speed etc.

So too with emotion; it is just the energy or drive. Depending on the characteristics of the individual in relation to his personality, culture, environment (and a host of other factors), how that emotion will be transformed into action is not easy to see. No two people are absolutely identical – not even Siamese (monozygotic) twins.

What actions are driven by emotions? That’s not so hard. People may be driven to act physically or psychologically. Physical actions means taking some actions that can easily be seen and tracked by numerous observers. Psychological actions are not very tangible. They involve thoughts, thinking, planning and strategies. If you’re 5’ 2” and not a very attractive male, and you fall in love (at first sight) with a beautiful girl, well you need to do something different to a much taller attractive male to successfully woo her. So your attempts may be expressed in a different way. Think – why are pretty girls sometimes found with the most ugly of male partners?  Think of the male partners for a moment, surely they had to do something different. [Yes Mr idiot – I know it could have more to do with the air between the ears of the pretty blond].

Now – when people become filled with emotions and they do not have a strategy or mental wherewithal to cope, that’s when problems can arise. There could be eruptions of violence or inappropriate conduct. Some people become so anxious that they make rushed or faulty decisions.

I therefore wanted to crystallise the issues above. Emotions are important drivers of our survival. However, in a modern world we need to be more prepared in coping with emotions. If we’re not then there could be significant problems. The first phase of managing emotions is of course to recognise them by type, degree and potential to drive actions or decisions that may  lead to more suffering. Think and feel carefully as you go. 🙂

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