I think that by most people’s standards, I’ve had a challenging life. I also think that by most people’s standards, I brought most of it on myself – and I would agree. I have a long history of taking things that should be easy, and finding ways of making them hard. I’m not actually sure why I have this quality, but I am starting to understand the impact it has on my life.
Each time I put myself in a challenging situation, I had to figure it out. It wasn’t that I lacked a support system, it’s just that my support system would usually suggest that if I got myself into it, I can get myself out of it. Over the years, I developed a system that was effectively: Understand where you’re at, understand where you want to be, and find a way to close the gap. I think the key word there is understand. It was an exercise in problem solving in the arena of thought.
My father passed away in my mid-20s. He and I were close – he meant a lot to me. It was cancer and he lasted about 2 years between diagnosis and death. Towards the end, I remember having a conversation with a friend about how it would impact me. I had noticed a pattern over the years which suggested that each time I went through something like this, I became a less emotional person. Despite all the other challenges I had overcome, I knew that losing my dad would impact me more than anything I had ever been through and I was concerned about how it would impact my emotional disposition – would I have any left?
In the month that my dad died, the first girl I thought I’d marry left me for her ex-boyfriend, I tore my shoulder, and the promotion which I had just moved cities for was rescinded. After I wrapped up the responsibilities around my father’s estate, I decided it was important to give myself time to grieve to prevent any future imbalance. The following week was a combination of work, family sized lasagnas, weed, and a few movies that legitimately made me bawl my eyes out (the dad scene in Warrior got me good). By the end of that week, I figured that the best thing I could do for my father, for myself, and for those who counted on me was to rise above and move forward. I accepted that my father may have died earlier than I would’ve liked, but I also recognized that he led the kind of life that most people would aspire to. He had a family who loved him, he was a master of his craft, he built and sold a business, he was respected within his community, and he was the giant upon whose shoulders I would stand on. I had to wrap my head around that death was part of the natural order in which we all existed, and that I should be proud of the life that my father lived. I don’t know if it was easy or hard, but I did.
I spent the next 6 months identifying where I was in my life, where I wanted to be, and worked on closing the gap. By the end of that year, I was headed back home for a new career in wealth management for one of the world’s top global banks. The loss of my father was never a source of depression for me, instead, I chose to use his memory as a source of inspiration and drive. Even to this day, everything that I do is in some way for him.
I was often complimented on how well I handled the passing of my father. I was called very well adjusted. However, my concerns about becoming a less emotional person seemed to be valid. The girls I dated since likely saw the same thing. One said that I was driven, but not passionate. Another said that I was empty inside. My favorite though, and perhaps the girl who understood me best, called me her benevolent robot king. I was a high functioning human being in most respects, but I did it without what most people would call emotion. I don’t have the wisdom necessary to make any conclusions, but I’m starting to think that there some validity to operating without emotion.
This is where I think it’s important to define the term emotion. Google’s definition suggests that emotion is a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood and relationships with others. For me, the key word is instinctive and I think there’s a key difference between instinct and thought. I’m sitting here trying to think of exactly what that is and I don’t think I can define it just yet. When I try, I think of instinct like firmware and thought like software. The firmware came with the hardware and can be tough to update. Software however can be updated often depending on the applications you want to run and the tasks you’re looking to accomplish.
Before modern cognition, instincts were paramount to survival. In modern society, our instinctual drives often seem counter-productive. Easy examples include men cheating on their spouses because of their instinctual drive to procreate with multiple partners or women searching for men with the physique and resources to protect and provide for them. If we were to understand these types of behaviors as instinctual and left over evolutionary characteristics from a past era, I think we’d understand each other a little better. Unfortunately, this is where ’emotions and feelings’ come into play.
In many of my relationships, I was told that I had to respect their emotions or respect their feelings. I understood that I should respect the person and that their emotional state is part of who they are, but I didn’t understand why I should inherently respect their emotions. Perhaps my favorite example is when a girlfriend spent the day angry at me because I had cheated on her in a dream – for the record, I’ve never cheated. I understood and appreciated that she had sensory input that triggered instinctual fears of losing a mate but what I didn’t understand is why it was acceptable for her to ‘feel’ upset with me let alone why that state of mind should be respected.
The more rational I became, the more challenging I was for someone who was emotional. I was still nice, I still wanted to be a good person and I was still working hard to make a positive impact in the world, but thought and emotion were often two different perspectives in the world and one often struggled to understand the other. What I’m going to say next might ruffle some feathers, and I could be wrong, but it’s my current evolution of thought on the matter. I think that thought is a higher form of cognition than emotion. I’m not prepared to say that one is better than the other, or that one leads to a happier life, but I am prepared to say that on average, thinking things through is a more successful approach than feeling things out.
When I think of humanity’s greatest thinkers and what they’ve accomplished, I’m inspired. When I think of humanity’s greatest feelers and what they’ve accomplished, I draw a blank. When I think of humanity’s worst, I think of people who let hate and prejudice get the better of them. Hate is an emotional state while prejudice is a lack of thought. However, I cannot accurate say that all good things come from thought while all bad things come from emotion because without emotion, where’s the love?
This would surprise many, but as rational and robotic as I am, I still cry on a regular basis. I’d say about once a month, I see something beautiful or something sad that touches me and gets me misty eyed at the very least. It was the kind of thing that I would fight when I was younger but I embrace now. Fear doesn’t really register with me the way that it does with other people, but I do have a very real concern about losing that connection because there is something that feels very human about it. Something that I respect and appreciate about emotion is that the best moments in my life were emotional. Happiness is an emotional state of mind.
Where I’ll leave this for today is a theory that I’m working on. We only have one body, we only have one central nervous system, and we only have one brain. On that basis, emotion and thought have to be connected. Emotion seems to have a stronger connection to the body and the subconscious while thought seems to have a stronger connection to the outside world. I think that in earlier stages of evolution, instinctual drives and internal monitors were more closely associated with survival but as we’ve created the world we live in today, it’s become increasingly important to understand the outside world. Trying to understand the outside world with an instinctual or emotional perspective can be limiting so thought has become more important. As the outside world progresses, we continue to develop physical and intellectual tools to help understand what’s happening internally. Currently, I’m trying to understand what will happen to emotion if we continue along this path. I don’t think that the emotional state will disappear completely, but I do think that it’s importance will diminish as our understanding of how it fits into general cognition evolves. How Vulcan…