Those who are emotionally blind can no longer be considered truly rational.

What?

It sounds like a modern-day koan, the Buddhist paradoxical meditation that is supposed to help bring enlightenment, doesn’t it? And, once having this thought, I started to see evidence of it all over the place.

I have learned this through my recent awakening. I reached a tipping point of awareness in the past few years and the new, larger version of me is seeing and experiencing the world very differently than just a few years ago. Much of this awakening is in the area of emotional awareness; both with other people and myself. I look back on how I acted towards people and cringe. I can now clearly see how being emotionally blind or, perhaps, emotionally nearsighted, made me appear disconnected and irrational.

Once I had this epiphany…a lot of research and apologizing. Especially to my wife of 13 years. Wow, emotional blindness made me quite unkind, quite unknowingly. I can’t see how it wouldn’t do that to anyone.

Rationality: Those who are emotionally blind can no longer be considered truly rational.

As I researched this I found that the thought that we’re (at least somewhat) irrational without our emotional awareness is spreading. But…it sounds so counter-intuitive. Let’s see about some of the latest research might tell us about this.

Maybe thoughts and emotions aren’t the different things we think they are. (what?!) One of the latest pieces of research in neuroscience tells us that thoughts and feelings may be pretty much the same things; they just appear different in our internal landscape. See what Lisa Feldman Barrett has to say.

The same brain networks that make emotion also make thoughts and memories and perceptions. Emotion is basically your brain’s way of making sense of the sensory changes that are going on inside your body in relation to what’s going on around you in the world. So, an emotion is your brain making meaning of sensations from the world. It’s not your reaction to the world; it’s your construction of what the world is, what your body is like in the world as it appears to you in that moment.

Then, an extreme case: the sufferers of Alexithymia. Medically diagnosed emotional blindness. If our current medical science can diagnose this, it must be pretty severe; medical science doesn’t seem to be too good at picking up the subtleties in our bodies quite yet.

If you read the experiences of these poor sufferers, it’s clear that they spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and conscious focus on understanding their social environment and interacting with people positively (read empathetically and rationally). Prior to my awakening, I had similar experiences — not at that scale, certainly, and I do know the stress and fear I felt when someone would react badly to something I said or did. Something that I thought was innocuous and turned out to be cold or hurtful or whatever. It’s terrifying, embarrassing, and confusing.

People who were with me at those times definitely saw me as detached and irrational. I can hear amplifications of that in the stories of Alexes. It’s not hard to imagine what being with someone like that would be like, especially if you didn’t know of their condition. I have to give a huge shout out to all of those sufferers who made their stories publicly available; I have a hint of what you go through and that sucks pretty badly. I can only imagine the strength that coming out took. Huge kudos to you all.

No Longer Be: Those who are emotionally blind can no longer be considered truly rational.

To quickly review:

Emotions and thoughts might be the same thing. People who are emotionally blind appear disconnected and irrational.

Why now? Why is it “can no longer be…”?

Because we’re continuing to evolve as well. Our species is, apparently, waking up to this truth. If it’s worked its way down to me anyway, this must be the case.

If we accept this for the moment, the clear next question is, why would this be so?

Because somewhere, somehow, it was a better choice evolutionarily for us to have emotions rather than not. Our ancestors had some advantage because they had emotions. Lisa Feldman Barrett thinks that we developed emotions in order to help control our bodies. Maybe there’s more.

Our emotions are really fast. The limbic system — the old lizard part of our brains where the emotions are produced — is really focused on one thing: survival. If you’re not an alpha predator (and we weren’t back in the day), one good defense is to be fast. So we were. Just like today, our emotions could instantaneously stir us into action.

But not thoughtful action. Fast action. Action designed to help an individual survive. First and foremost, we appear to be designed for self-protection, self-survival.

To review: emotions and thoughts may be the same thing; emotional blindness causes people to appear disconnected and irrational; we have evolved to the point where we are starting to realize this; and, emotions provide an evolutionary advantage, which means that they provided a way for individuals to survive across a large swath of population.

To me, those dots all connect. They lead to an inescapable conclusion that our emotions make up such an essential and crucial part of each of us that ignoring or discounting our emotions, irrational though they may be, causes us to be unable to be truly rational. They are a core part of our wisdom, leading back to the opening: Those who are emotionally blind can no longer be considered truly rational.

Time to explore the breadth of the koan, the wisdom of our emotions. Feelings are not smart, intelligent, or rational, but…they are wise. They carry the accumulated wisdom of millions of years of evolution. How could they not inform our rationality? Why would we even choose to have them in anything but utter, clear, focus?

Emotions inform rationality. Wow, who would have thought?

Storyteller, seeker, always curious, work-in-progress

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