Reflections about Emotions and Critical Thought

Carol A. Hand

Yesterday morning I had a bit of a scare. One of the first things I do most days is turn on my computer. Then I make my morning coffee, hit the play button for my birds’ favorite CD and remove their cage covers. Next, it’s time to take my little dog out. By the time I finally sit down at my computer, it’s always ready for the next morning rituals, checking email, the news, and WordPress.

But yesterday, the screen was blank when I sat down. No blue background with too many icons, only a black screen. After rebooting, a message appeared. Windows could only fix the problem by going back to an older version. Any new programs would be lost. I had just uploaded a draft of the last, belated assignment for Writing 101 on my blog – an interview with a friend. I wasn’t sure if either the draft on WordPress or on my computer would still exist if I approved the operation, but there were no other options that I could think of as a technophobe. After what seemed like hours, the blue icon-filled screen once again appeared. Both documents had survived.

Relieved, I made final changes on the post and published. Next, I began the tedious process of copying posts and saving them on a flash-drive, one-by-one. It’s something I haven’t done for a while. As I went from post to post, backwards in time, I became aware of all of the sentimental poems and posts I’ve shared recently. I still see my attempts at poetry as trite and sentimental, but I share them nonetheless. They do come from deeper reflections and a peaceful loving place.

As I went from post to post, I wondered if my almost-embarrassment over these sentimental posts had anything to do with my years in academia. One particular experience came to mind. It was the only class I “failed” as a doctoral student. (The “BC” assigned by one of the faculty who led the class, The Social Psychology of Emotions, was changed to a “C” by the other co-teacher – a failing grade at this level.) I remember the class well. To say it was boring is inaccurate. It was soulless. The readings, lectures, and class discussions never really touched emotions at all.

I had hoped the course would help me be better prepared to design an intervention for men who were caring for wives with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. During my initial interviews with male caregivers, many cried and mentioned how they often contemplated assisting their wives with suicide and their own. They felt hopeless and alone. Yet I also learned that these were taboo topics to raise during class discussions. The “C” instructor would scowl and her face would become red and rigid when I spoke about these observations and experiences. She would quickly guide us back to research that had little to do with felt and expressed emotions to the science of physiological reactions.

My time to speak came with the presentation of our final papers to the class as a whole. Although I did find other students’ discussions of physiological and brain changes associated with excitement and risk-taking behaviors interesting, their research didn’t provide any practical solutions for dealing with people who were suffering. I made a conscious decision to try to touch people’s hearts in my final paper and presentation. It was, after all, relevant given the focus of the course on “emotions.” I researched caregiver loss and grief and read the following poem aloud as part of my presentation (posted in an earlier essay).

lake superior sunrise

Photo: By Jnana Hand

Comes the Dawn
(by Veronica A. Shoffstall)

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn…
With every goodbye you learn.

As I read the poem, I sometimes had to pause to control the tears in my voice. There were tears in the eyes of all of my classmates, and even in the eyes of instructor “BC.” The only one who remained tearless was instructor “C.” Her customary scowl appeared and deepened as I read. She did feel emotions, after all, but not ones that would earn me a passing grade.

Gradually, I’m learning to trust the words that flow from my heart, but it hasn’t been easy. As I look back, I realize that it is my heart that has motivated me so often to use critical thinking as a tool to come up with practical solutions to address suffering and oppression. I’ve consciously chosen to do so even if it made me vulnerable to criticism for being unscientific and sentimental. I don’t think that choice is likely to change in the future, and I don’t think it should.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

32 thoughts on “Reflections about Emotions and Critical Thought

  1. Oh Carol, my sister from afar…
    You are a holistic thinker who embraces emotions because they were never and should have never been separated from the rest.
    I’m currently taking a course on systems thinking and learned that what we know as “science” is just the result of the dominant mental model that asks for short-term results (reductionism). This is the same mental model that rejects herbalism but accepts pharmacology, accepts the dry study of the brain but rejects the feeling and embracing of emotions…and the same mental model that is destroying our world and our relationship with other beings, humans included, causing social injustices and ecological losses because that is the only outcome reductionists models can cause…
    You and I and many like us have an internal ethic that makes us strong. It is not that we are unscientific, it is that we see deeper and intuitively feel all the connections.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your lovely comments brought tears to my eyes, Silvia – you speak with such depth, wisdom, and authenticity. Thank you for giving voice to the deeper connections that bind us together with each other and all life ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a lovely, lovely poem. It has a lot of heart. I can very well imagine your perturbation with the computer. Last week when mine acted up, I wasn’t smiling. Good thing it came back alive 😊 Very beautiful post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Jacqueline 🙂 I think this poem is lovely, too.

      (I would love to hear more about your computer adventures. Yesterday, I didn’t get upset and merely waited patiently … for what seemed like a v-e-r-y l-o-n-g time.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I found this statement very profound and true. You wrote,”As I look back, I realize that it is my heart that has motivated me so often to use critical thinking as a tool to come up with practical solutions to address suffering and oppression”.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your thoughtful comments, Honey. 🙂

      It’s funny how things that could be viewed as obstacles, like a computer not working, sometimes give us an opportunity to reflect back on life and discover deeper patterns we didn’t notice at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the message was a gift that you would have never recieved if you were not an open vessel to receive it. I think that you have accomplished more in you life than you will ever realize. That you have touched more lives in ways you never will know. I found that God helped me fullfill many goals in my life, but lifes tragic obstacles blinded me from apreciating it at that time. I was trying so hard to find a way through the obstacle to realize, God was answering my prayer the whole time. The answers were just not given in the manner in which I thought they should have been answered.Think what you can accomplish in the future. You are armed with special insights.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for sharing such important experiences and insights, Honey. As you point out so eloquently, we can only (try to) control how we chose to deal with obstacles and responsibilities in our lives, not other people’s responses or choices. As always, I’m grateful for your kind and thoughtful comments. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. A difficult topic, Carol, of heart and mind. The mix of empathy and reason properly used is good. “As I look back, I realize that it is my heart that has motivated me so often to use critical thinking as a tool to come up with practical solutions to address suffering and oppression”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Cicorm. I do think that a special kind of creativity and charisma emerge as a result of blending heart with critical thinking. For short periods of time, I’ve witnessed the magic that happens when people are inspired to use both to work toward visionary change.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh Carol please do learn to love your emotions. Our emotions make up who we are and reflect what we have been through. They represent our history and build us piece by piece into what and who we are. Your poem had me in tears. We are not whole if we deny any part of what God designed, and He is an emotional being as well. So you just emote away, my sweet friend. This lady is very emotional and cries at the drop of a hat, but I don’t apologize about that anymore. I have earned to the right to be exactly who I am and you have too. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember loving that poem when you first loaded it! I always think emotions are the lights that guide us to how we are responding to a situation. Psychology as science may not think that, but western, scientific psychology isn’t the only way of looking at the world. Psychology doesn’t define what it means to be human, only tries to offer an ever unfolding and changing insight. I like your heartfelt posts.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s is so good to hear from you, Nicci. I love your ever-thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I do wonder how many people often think about the meaning of life and what it means to be human. It seems we’re often too busy just surviving to take the time to explore why we’re here. I don’t believe it’s merely to acquire things or be important in other people’s eyes while needless and preventable death and destruction surround us. And I know from your work that you contemplate these same questions.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment made me realize how far I’ve moved from reliance on academic research to answer practical questions about how to address suffering and oppression, Michael, at least in the field of social work. Knowledge without context, compassion, and practical applications in these times feels like an ego-centered diversion. It’s something, along with gaining power and prestige, that seemed to motivate many of my former colleagues.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Excellent, as always!

    I too have shared something deep inside on my blog, and then, months later, cringed as I read it once again. And I have wondered why I was cringing as I reread it. And you just wrote the answer right here.

    We are not allowed to be who we truly are as individuals. We must conform to the standards set by others, or will be mocked or worse. And those of us who have been more “highly educated” have been even more ensnared by this tyranny,

    You write not only from your mind but from your heart as well, which is exactly what the rest of us need. We are all incomplete without both the mind and the heart working in sync! But many, or even most, academic types are devoid of the entire package needed to be a fully-functioning human being. These poor folk are so wrapped up in their mind, thoughts and own brilliance that they have lost track of who they truly are: individual human beings who are no more or less than anyone else.

    Why is it that “higher education” seeks to remove “the affective domain,” the heart and soul (the imagination), from the individual student? Why is university/college academia\ so soulless, so cut, dry and brittle? How can the mind (the imagination) ever truly grow to be all it can be in this bleak environment? Perhaps, this is why we have so few people who can come up with the answers to all of our problems today?

    By the time I had received my masters in composition, I had almost begun to hate composing and performing music. For months afterwards, I was totally blocked. I had become devoid of the joy of creating and performing music, so, at that time, I had been incapable of being creative.

    I had one professor in music who understood what the system was doing to the student. This wonderful, eccentric man said, “All we do is take the unique creativity that is in each of you and stifle it!” And he had stated this in great frustration and anger. I have never forgotten him or his message, his warning, to us in that orchestration class so long ago. I can still see him standing there in my mind and heart’s eye.

    Thank you for sharing this! There are many of us out here who need this message, and the others you take the time and the love to share as well!

    And don’t feel like you have to respond, especially since I write too much. I understand answering comments and emails can be time consuming.

    Just write!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your powerful insights about academia, Sojourner. You describe so clearly the most difficult discoveries for me during my short time as faculty. I often remember the first content class I taught – Aging and Mental Health – cross-listed for both undergraduate and graduate students. One of the graduate students submitted an exceptional research paper, far better than anything I could write at the time. I remember consciously making the choice to be the kind of teacher who recognized and encouraged creativity and excellence even though it was sometimes intimidating. I realized my job was not to be the expert whose job required filling empty vessels, but to uncover the gifts all students brought with them and help them develop in their own unique ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “I realized my job was not to be the expert whose job required filling empty vessels, but to uncover the gifts all students brought with them and help them develop in their own unique ways.”

        Exactly! And this is why you were a wonderful teacher who was not appreciated by the system. The system is not set up to care about the individual or her/his gifts and unique ways.

        Why educate people if this is not the goal?

        We know why, don’t we?!

        There’s an old Yes lyric that states, “Only through love change comes.” I wholeheartedly agree!

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t mean to sideline any of the emotion you’ve mentioned here, it is beauty to speak from heart’s emotion, never find embarrassment by it. But on the topic of technology I would like to add, I have felt for some time – being that technology is a large part of my paid occupation, or perhaps because it is that, that I question its intent. For all purposes, has it made our lives better? I think, resoundingly not. I believe it has only aided our frustrations, aggravations, and fueled discontent. One might argue in favor that we live better and longer than any previous generation, due technology; it’s a feeble argument because quality cannot be measured by quantity. And antiquity is not here to argue.

    Rather technology has aided overpopulation, the destruction of the environment, supported elitism and inequality, given rise to empire and the police surveillance state, caused the animal holocaust while simultaneously causing starvation, and in addition, it has stifled awareness and increased stupidity and pettiness – Facebook and smartphones be my witness to the latter.

    Lately I’ve thought more on technology and its effects due a recent article you may find interesting, and a moniker I’m sure you remember:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Peter, and for the link. I don’t disagree with you about the dangers of technology. My recent computer episode actually made me realize how addicted I’ve become to it of late. This morning, turning on my computer wasn’t the first thing I did. I turned it on only after I did all of the chores I have wanted to accomplish first. And then, it was primarily to see if I had any messages from my daughter.

      I would add that it is easy to become addicted to it – smart phones, tv, games all distract us and keep us from being present in the real world. That being said, however, I realized as I was reflecting this morning that WordPress has become a place where I can have real conversations with people. As I thought about the likelihood of talking to my neighbors as I would to my virtual friends, I chuckled to myself. I suck at small talk. I don’t watch tv or care about sports, and the things I can talk about – politics, religion, or even the weather – are topics we’re likely to disagree about. So I see technology as a neutral tool – in moderation it can be a good thing. In excess or used with the intent to control or harm others, it’s obviously terribly dangerous. The challenge is preventing our own addiction and figuring out how to prevent it’s use as a means of domination in the hands of the powerful.

      Just one example – a relatively benign one. One day when I was out working in the yard, the monthly test of the emergency alert system blasted out of the sound equipment located at the elementary school at the end of the alley. The piercing sound of the siren made me fall to my knees in agony even though I covered my ears. Hardly the most effective or benign use of technology from my perspective, but it wasn’t a drone, misguided or otherwise…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s a balancing act we’re likely never master, while WordPress for the associated virtual friendships are quite the treasure.

        And, I know well that piercing sound from my city daze.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. It is such a soulful experience reading your posts, Carol, and it touches me deeply with its insights and humanism. Your encounter with computer is a strong reminder of how dependent we are on technology. I cannot bring myself to get into conventional mode of holding pen to paper for putting anything down in writing, as it feels very uncomfortable, and a far cry from the comfort of playing with one’s fingers on a notebook or iPad keyboard. So the restlessness created by a snag in the gadget to retrieve content can well be visualised. And your poem about building on roads of today against uncertain tomorrows and interventions with dementia, throw sensitive light on how priceless the expansive and emotional right side, contrasted with the limiting and rational left side of human brain is, pointing to the need for balance, with which you appear to be so abundantly blessed…best wishes… Raj.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always such a pleasure to hear from you, Raj. I have the same difficulty writing by hand these days – the words that flow so often have to be rearranged. Even the simplest things require both heart and mind. Thank you for your eloquent kindness, and best wishes to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

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