This is another in the Who I Want to Be series, which seems to have gained a weekly rhythm. It’s a bit long, but if you are interested in pursuit of truth over the power of emotions and the pursuit of rationality over existential fatalism, it might prove interesting.
I’ve been thinking about the topic of truth for three solid days, a very complicated type of truth. This began with R telling B1 and me that B1 has no problem with seeing the truth even when she has powerful emotions; whereas, my emotions tend to be my truth. My natural reaction is a defensive one, to claim that there is no way that I am an emotional animal. I want to believe that I am smart enough not to let my emotions run my life or ruin my life. I’m smart enough to know that my emotions are only a psycho-physical reaction to how I perceive the world. My perceptions and the subsequent emotions can be various shades of right or wrong, but I can’t control them. I can control my reaction to the emotions.
R asked me and B1 the same question, “Do you think you can control whether or not you fall in love?” B1 answered quite quickly that she could. I took a few seconds and then said that I could not but I could control how I act and what actions I take. R concluded that I was correct in my assessment and explained it to B1 (this is a rare event, my being correct). B1 is able to use rational thinking to guide her actions, and despite knowing that I can do that too, I tend to use my emotions. My emotions tend to be so powerful that I do not even know how to pursue rational thought if the topic is an emotional one for me. My world being an emotional one and B1’s an objective and concrete one, her judgment is black and white and mine is a horrible mix of grays, browns, olives, and the occasional bright reds. Hers is right or wrong, true or false, yes or no, and mine is simply confused.
R explained to me how I allow my emotions to direct me in what I perceive to be the truth. He showed me by quoting back some of my conclusions about family, friends and strangers in my life. He was right. I have an emotional reaction to how someone acts, or worse to what someone says, or far worse to what I think someone thinks, and then I believe I know the truth about that person. He gave me evidence of how my judgment in these matters is often wrong. I will proclaim that a certain person thinks I am a giant scumbag, and R asks me what is the evidence I have that this is true. The word evidence bothers me in human matters, but I rarely have appropriate evidence for the bad thoughts about me that I attribute to people who are in my life. I wrote a poem about this learning earlier this week, and I could not hit the topic right, so here is an essay.
In my new daily cycling of crashes back into a despondent form of depression, probably caused by new medicines that may not be administered properly, sometimes the crash is so strong and so quick that my emotional response almost makes me unable to carry on. I will be walking through the store, a crash happens, and all of a sudden people’s faces look mean, angry and violent; I have fear of being attacked; I have fear that I will not survive this sudden world of cruelty. Rationally, I know it is the crash and no one is going to attack me, but I also know that there is some truth to what I see. There is an actual cruelty in today’s culture, an actual complete lack of compassion for strangers by the majority of our culture, so my emotions are telling a form of truth. The crash and the emotional reaction are too powerful for the rational thinking. I get myself out of the environment and get to a peaceful location and maybe call a friend. I work to remember that there are good things happening in the world, I work to counter this emotional sense that the world is full of hate. B2 and R are helping me with cognitive strategies to counter this type of psycho-physical reaction to the world. The core strategy seems to be asking if my conclusion is actually true. This seems simple, but for me it is really quite difficult. I also continue to hope that some day we will find the right medicines.
Sometimes this emotional defect of mine is to my advantage. It allows me to be empathetic and to identify with people who are in pain. It allows me to enjoy good movies because I often think I am there – I forget I am a spectator (not such a good thing with the horror shows). It allows me to love art. It allows me to experience explosions of spiritual joy when I listen to my favorite music.
R tells me I need to find the truth. Ask myself what the truth is. R draws an imaginary square in the air in front of his face, and he tells me I need to get inside of that square which is meant to represent the truth or a relative proximity of the truth. I only need to get inside the lines of the box. This is like a foreign language to me. I hate to admit that. As it turns out, I strongly count on my emotional senses of the environment in drawing conclusions about what is happening. This fuels my desire to create stuff but it fouls my ability to be a rational human being. R tells me I need to start asking myself a lot of questions about what I perceive. I am accustomed to asking myself a lot of questions about who I am, or about how good I am, or about whether I am doing the right thing, basically all sorts of existential questions, but I never ask these questions about what I am perceiving outside of myself. I believe my emotional reaction to people and their actions when I need to be asking myself a lot of questions about my conclusions.
I was pondering all of these ideas for self-improvement and ideas for perceiving truth in relationships when I was reading Kierkegaard this morning and latched onto an incredibly powerful truth about the way the world works. I’m a layman, but Kierkegaard was telling me that despair and despondency is a natural state in human beings but almost none of us know that the despair is present. This made me think that maybe I see the truth and a lot of others don’t, but I am sure that is not the message I was supposed to take. The most hopeless thing about what he said is that the despondency is incurable. It occurs because we know how we are meant to live life in the ideal state, it is impossible to live that life, and therefore despondency is the natural and permanent state of humans. Most humans go through life not having any awareness this, but that is good in a way because if we were all aware of the despondent state that we are in, there would never be enough psychiatrists in the world. I have not concluded whether or not it is healthy for me to read anymore Kierkegaard, but he was a favorite of one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace, so my interest is strong even knowing that DFW committed suicide when he had concluded there was no way to survive it.
One of the things I want to consider as I go along with this Who I Want to Be is whether or not I might be capable of going into counseling as a significant career change. I spend time with people in groups and medical centers now and I enjoy it as a layman and a comrade in recovery, and I have a sense that I want to pursue it professionally. B2 says it is a clear possibility. Next up with B2 is working on controlling how my emotions drive how I interpret the world, and this would be an obvious requirement for this kind of career change, but again, B2 says that I can do that. Controlling the emotional reactions to my perceptions will also help in employing cognitive skills in battling depression. More on this to come, I am sure.
This is good learning for me. I will work on it in my relations with others. What I want to avoid is diluting my emotions, especially if I continue to try any type of creative efforts, which I plan on doing. What is most frightening is that this is a typical side effect of medications that help one avoiding life-ending depression, but I don’t think you are required to be in great pain to create good art.
#1 by Sirenum Scopuli on January 9, 2011 - 12:33 pm
It would be interesting to get R and B2 in the same room and discuss the differences in perception they have about you and B1. I suspect their truths are divergent.
#2 by Carl on January 9, 2011 - 3:28 pm
I suppose that is true. They have different missions, but I think B2 would be agreeable with much of it.
#3 by Marian on January 9, 2011 - 9:16 pm
so Carl, i am very new here and don’t have much context, yet. but i want to say that i really get what you are saying about being what i have called lucid, or aware. at times i have wished to unthink, unknow, be unaware. sigh.
also, have you seen this? http://www.slate.com/id/2250784/
words david foster wallace circled in his dictionary. SO inspiring!
#4 by Carl on January 9, 2011 - 9:58 pm
Marian, that is a tremendous find on the dictionary! Thank you! His character in Infinite Jest becomes increasingly identifiable – I loved that in the book, at different points where he was only through the letter F, and he did not know that word that began with a J, and the reader is sure that none of the readers knew the word either, so what’s the big deal? But his character was memorizing the encyclopedia! I loved that. My mom would force us into major league dinner table arguments about etymology or meaning of words using the Oxford Unabridged, which required a magnifying glass, and I remember Mother declaring that the OED was wrong! It is all so humorous but there is an underlying sadness to all of it, and that is where I get DFW, the laughing at the insignificance of all the things we weigh heavily and yet crying at what we do with ourselves on those things.
And bingo on the awareness thing, but is it possible that we need to focus on things that are on a different level? Is there a deeper awareness that brings relief to the pain of other levels of awareness? I don’t know, I have some faith that there is, but from what I have experienced SO FAR, Kierkegaard is correct, it is incurable depression when the awareness of conflicting purpose is acquired. There is no way out, technically.
#5 by Marian on January 10, 2011 - 9:54 am
hey Carl, came to work this morning, this was in my inbox, and i thought of sharing it with you right away.
#6 by Carl on January 10, 2011 - 8:14 pm
You are awesome! Loved the article! It made me sad because I want to know what the scholars know. I always want to know more, but I am not in academia, and I am a sloth when it comes to knowledge about things I want to know about. It also makes me sad because it reminds me about what a genius DFW was, and it makes me feel like an idiot. I did buy one of the guides to Infinite Jest that is mentioned, and by the time I was done with the guide, I concluded that I understood the book better than the scholar…:-) do you get to work daily in academia?