Friday, 19 September 2014

Generation-Understanding

Knowing how and why we have the feelings we do is the definition of mental health these days, as we resolve to overcome the terrible denial and repression to which we attribute much of the psychological distress that human beings have had to suffer. And we have become very, very good at it, able not only to name the feeling that we are at any given moment experiencing - 'I feel very anxious right now' - but also to understand where it is that feeling comes from and the end at which it aims - 'I know that many women feel like this in the months after having a baby, as the expectancy and relief stages of pregnancy and childbirth leave a gap in their sense of meaning and purpose.' How understanding of ourselves and others we have become! - no longer at the mercy of our moods but able to talk their language, so to speak, and thereby to defuse their potential effects.

But something is missing from this great achievement, of getting in touch with our feelings. Feelings are missing, having been almost entirely eradicated by knowledge, by awareness, by understanding, which are, in our society, taken much more seriously than the 'merely' emotional aspects of human experience. But feelings are very serious indeed, and it is important not to try to understand them! You see, the whole point about feelings is that they affect us and motivate us at least partially outside of the ways in which what we know affects and motivates us. What feelings do, therefore, is provide us with a rich and complex response to life and those around us that is not reducible to how we understand life and those around us. The necessity of living with those feelings, of adjusting them and ourselves in order to maintain a kind of equilibrium, results in our making changes to our lives and asking changes of others around us in a manner that is often productive of mutual respect, of depth of appreciation of each other and of a richness in living that we would never have been inspired to merely by what we know. The unknowable aspect of feelings, then, is wherein lies the force of their effect on our lives. To know them, by this account, is to diminish, if not entirely to remove, their effect. To understand our feelings is all but to annihilate the role that feeling has played in human existence.

Many of us have long relinquished anything like the voice of the divine in the guidance of our affairs. But feelings served many of us as well, in shaping us in a way we could not quite account for - like a divine voice within, if you please. But secular society silences all such voices. And produces what is now referred to as 'generation-sensible,' the just-turning-adult cohort that is remarkable, we are told, for its avoidance of sex, drink and drugs, and its pursuit of academic and other worldly goals. Generation-without-feeling, in other words. Generation-understanding