I watched a couple of public service “commercials” from the late fifties or early sixties the other day. One was about poor Bill, and why he had a stomachache. He’d rushed through his meals to be onto better things like recess, and then consumed candy and soda after school because he hadn’t eaten enough. Poor Bill. He sure learned his lesson! A healthy body requires a relaxed eating environment full of nutritious food, which gives strength and energy for outdoor activities.
The other was about effective discussion between married couples. This video started off showing two couple having a similar fight. One couple was very passionate and did a lot of yelling; the other argued with lowered tones and refinement. Immediately, I was rooting for the passionate couple. If you’re going to fight, you might as well mean what you’re fighting about. Back in the day, I had a similar reaction to parenting advice books that recommended corporal punishment be administered when the parents weren’t emotional. While I understood the reasoning — they’re trying to prevent child abuse — unemotionally spanking kids out of a sense of codified rules for punishment is mildly psychopathic, if not just unnatural. Honestly, I thought the video would promote the civilized couple, but then it took a more focused look at each.
The emotional, shouting couple eventually found humor in their situation and laughed at themselves and came to a compromise. They were able to do this because they were okay with expressing their emotions, the full range of them, including humor. The refined couple, on the other hand, had their egos invested in the argument. The man, in his quiet unemotional way, called his wife stupid and incapable of rational decision making. The woman hit back with proud boasting about how capable she was, insinuating she was better at her job than her husband was at his, but eventually she cracked and started crying because he wouldn’t listen to her. That couple, for all their lack of passion, truly hurt each other, hitting “below the belt” with their words.
The voiceover explained how both couples could have done things better, yes, even the passionate couple. But I have to admit I was surprised that it turned the tables on my expected result. That video was made sixty or more years ago. Nowadays, I can’t imagine a public service announcement on marital disputes going that direction; however, I’ve only really seen this type of video in Christian circles, where hyper unemotional discourse is lauded as the proper discourse, and not just regarding our personal relationships, but our relationship with and to God. It’s a weird put-on in modern-day Christianity, an aftereffect of enlightenment rationalism circling outward into all parts of our lives.
Earlier today, I rejoined Facebook because I wanted to be part of a closed group. I had no interest in the nonsense that would automatically show up in my feed when clicking over to the group. Yet, there it was. And it was the same people saying the same things, including the group of Reformed Christian men who used to regularly (and apparently still do) mock any input a woman makes as being the dirtiest of all dirty words: emotional. Then the Christian women would chime in, backbiting their own sex to get in good with the unemotional guys, so they, too, could join the club. I hurriedly moved over to the closed group and beat myself up a little for rejoining the dumb beast where nobody ever changes but posts the same damn thoughts for years ad infinitum.
Here is my public service announcement: for a start, stop stagnating. The other part is simply insight: just because you feel unemotional, doesn’t mean you have a greater handle on the truth or are anywise rational. This is a mistake many people make. It’s similar to the self-referential bias of the high IQ person, who assumes, wrongly, that any thought running through his head is brilliant. Unemotional people, in a similar way, assume that whatever they think is well-reasoned. They assume this in both cases because they’ve left their thoughts unexamined. The high IQ person, however, is probably (yes, probably, not definitely) capable of brilliant thought, whereas there is no correlation between suppressed emotions and an ability to reason. Hence, unemotional discourse does not always lead to truth.
Despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise, human beings are emotional creatures, both male and female. Even when they pretend to have no emotions, they still make decisions based off their unacknowledged emotions. Ultimately, this is why the passionate couple was able to find their way back to loving each other. They didn’t waste time pretending they didn’t have feelings — for their own opinions, and for each other. The civil couple, on the other hand, couldn’t acknowledge their feelings and instead wasted their time being cruel.
About Bill, though. Sometimes what we need is a good healthful sandwich, a glass of milk, and some sunshine. If we accomplished that, maybe we would subvert the arguments in the first place. That’s the last of my public service announcements for the day.