Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Don't Like to Emote, Do You?

I don't like to "emote." I probably wouldn't have chosen to use the word "emote"; I would've said that I don't like to throw tantrums, bully people into agreeing with me, employ guilt, or blow off steam when I am frustrated. But, let's stick with "emote," since its the word that my mom and I agreed on. We had a conversation about how much my family likes to "emote," except for me. Another "psychobabble" way to talk about it is my family likes to "externalize" emotions, while I prefer to "internalize" them. The difference is they express anger and frustration quite well; I just get sad and depressed.

Anyway, what interested me in this psychological evaluation of how I differ from my family was how it related to my decision to study philosophy. I remember when I first read Plato--it was the Meno. I was taking a course on Metaphysics while studying in Rome and rather than cut class to head up to Amsterdam or Berlin (to chip away at the wall, which had just come down), I wanted to read Plato. I found myself totally in love with Socrates. I especially liked how he put the stubborn, arrogant Meno in his place. He had a way of sticking to reason, consistency, and logic that I found to be safe.

I was telling my mom the other day that the reason I studied Philosophy was because I found the way of argument to be a refuge from the way things got hashed out in my family. I never could "win" an argument in my family because to do so, you had to either out "emote" everyone else, or know how to hit below the belt.

My mom was intrigued by this revelation. She pointed out that she used to worry about my "emotional" development when I was a teenager and younger. I was enthralled with science and math, which she found to be unusual in a young girl. I think I just enjoyed that these subjects had nothing to do with being able to shout down your opponent. I guess my move from science and math to Philosophy was "fated in the stars." Philosophy gave me the ability to argue about things that mattered to me--emotional things--in a way that required careful deliberation, soul searching, evidence, and moral courage. Sure, plenty of students of philosophy still "emote"; we are human after all. But, at base, there are rules and principles for fair discussion.

What I admire about my family and their ability to "emote," however is that they all seemed rather anchored to the world. They feel passionately about their worldview and will defend it with abandon. I think it is important for us to begin from somewhere. We need some fixed point of reference from which to begin to make sense of the world. I am not saying that I don't have such a standpoint. I fear, however, that mine is constantly under revision based on new evidence, better arguments . . .

What I don't like about those who feel so free to "emote" is how out of control they can get. I found myself victimized by the rants and tantrums of my family when I was younger. I don't think they were always setting out to terrorize me. They just felt less inhibited to express anger, frustration, or passion. The effect, however, was that I felt it was my duty to calm the situation; to stay cool headed--to help soothe them all to a calmer state of mind. But being the self-appointed peace keeper takes its toll. My heart always races when people start to get wildly emotional. Moreover, I have always been terrified of mentally ill people out in the world, fearing they would explode their rage upon me and I would be trapped by them, heart racing and panic attacks setting in (this, by the way, is partially why I am so interested in the Philosophy of Psychiatry).

The bottom line is that I escaped to philosophy because I wanted to find spaces where rules counted and one couldn't win just by shouting down the rest. Philosophy became my refuge from those who like to "emote."