19 July 2011

"I Feel..."

I've noticed a trend lately (past few years or so) that is a reflection of our society, and not a good one, I fear.  While it isn't all that new a phenomenon, it may be growing.  I was grading position papers (essays, essentially) for one of my online courses, and noticed an uptick in how often the word 'feel' is used when cognitive processes are intended.  Instead of writing, "I think..." or, "I believe...", the students more and more write, "I feel...".

Now some of you might find this innocuous and my pointing it out to be a bit picky.  But it is a reflection of how our society emphasizes emotionalism over rationalism; pleasure over principle.  I read a recent survey (sorry, lost the link) where a bunch of folks were given an ethical dilemma and asked how they'd solve it given no other information.  A large majority picked, "the solution that would make them happiest".

I've heard some complain that this is a symptom of what they call, "The Chickification" of culture.  Maybe, maybe not.  Its true that women express emotion more readily and more often than men (in general).  But its not true that men are without emotion.  I don't find in general that women are less likely to use cognitive processes to solve problems, though I can't say I always understand the cognitive process they do use. (I hope I'm not being unfair to my wife here!)  What I find to be true is, certain people use emotions to make decisions and certain people don't (at least, not as much).  In other words, our ability to think and reason, and how we are taught to do these things, is more important than our gender, though gender has an effect.

Emotions always have some impact on decisions, and indeed are a necessary part of the cognitive reasoning in coming up with a solution.  But when logic is disregarded in order to do what feels best, poor decisions are often the result.  This is true whether the decision maker is a man or a woman, even when the display of the emotions are handled differently.  Emotional considerations are important in making decisions, but facts are critical.

As for my students, I've considered posting in my grading rubric that I'll take off a point every time the word 'feel' is used (unless it is referring to a sensory input, of course), but that might be too harsh.  I don't know if I have time to comment on it every time it happens, or if I did, how much a difference it would make in society.  I suppose every little bit helps.  I've always believed (not felt!) that part of my job as a professor is to teach people how to think, not just what to think, and to teach people to communicate what they think effectively.  (Say what you mean, mean what you say, etc.)

More philosophically, I wonder how much less a political issue we'd have with things like government control of health care, or so-called gay marriage, or the reality of hell (as a recent hot topic) if people primarily thought instead of felt about the issues.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of a little tongue-twister my mom wrote when she was young(er):
    One cannot think without a thought to think about.
    For a thought must have a thinker, and a thinker a thought,
    To think it out.


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