Emotion and Reason

We humans are lucky.  We have great capacity for logic and rational thought, and we also have as much, or more capacity for deep feelings.

 Sometimes our rational abilities supersede our emotions, and vice-versa.  Optimally, we would all like to have the right mix of logic and compassion, or love and practicality, or worry and reason.  But, we often don’t get the blend of wisdom and emotion quite right.

So, we make mistakes in love, in parenting, in finances, and in our jobs.  We care too much or too little, or we over or under-think things.  We give-in to children’s tears when we should stay the course in discipline, or we are inflexible when some compassion is in order.

The people we elect to run things in our various governmental levels are put in the position of doing what makes practical sense while respecting the caring emotions of us citizens.  They need to fulfill their obligation to be prudent and diligent while honoring our values.

When Governor Thompson, and later President Clinton reformed welfare in Wisconsin and then nationwide, it seemed hard-hearted to many, and yet one result was many people learning skills that made them productive and self-sufficient.  In that way the changes were pragmatic and compassionate.

The trick is that it’s often difficult to do what is practical and rational when our feelings are engaged disproportionately.   And, likewise, sometimes the logical actions taken have unanticipated consequences that impact people.

It could be said that there is no such thing as too much kindness.  Some people give away everything they have to help others, and hope for the best for themselves.  They are the Mother Theresa’s of the world.

You could also say that there’s no such thing as too much rationality.  The world runs by the laws of nature and physics, after all, and while economics isn’t truly a science, there are causes and effects that can be predicted.

What I’d like to see less of is the assertion that people trying to solve practical problems are evil and unfeeling, and that people who react with worry and sympathy aren’t serious, intelligent people. 

If we start with the assumption that both positions come from a genuine concern to do what’s best, the inherent disagreements are more likely to be discussed in a constructive way, and less likely to result in punches in the nose.


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