Rabbi Shmuel Gluck is the Director of Areivim, an organization that offers counseling, crisis intervention and referral services for teens and their families.
Intellectual and Emotional Knowledge – Part 2
Some of you may have concluded that since emotions can’t properly pinpoint the level of importance of any past incident, they must be a burden. However, emotions also offer many advantages. The most significant one is that emotion highlights to people that they care. When many people are presented with an uncomfortable truth, they convince themselves that they don’t really care. When they’re flooded with emotions they’re “forced” to admit that the issues matter.
For instance, some boys had indicated that they disliked learning Gemora. However, the one time that they found themselves learning with someone special they actually enjoyed the experience. They wouldn’t openly admit that they enjoyed it, but they found themselves in a good mood and thoughts of trying it again rushed through their minds. If they’re honest with themselves, this singular learning session would prove to them that their dislike of learning was probably due to some other causes such as bad Chavrusos (study partners), preferences for other subjects etc. It probably was not a dislike for learning. Emotions, although they may exaggerate, don’t lie.
People may believe that they don’t love their parents, children, or others who are the focus of their anger. However, when they see these people succeed, fail, or suffer, their emotions will act up and tell them that they really do care. Their emotions highlight that their decisions were not true.
The statement that: “their emotions will act up” requires an explanation, since emotions can’t tell people why they’re acting up.
There was a research study done in which a person was instructed to interview several dozen people over the course of a day, and to ask them trivial questions regarding the State park that they were visiting. The interviewer was also instructed to befriend each person while asking the questions. Some of the people were interviewed on the ground, while others were interviewed on top of a very rickety bridge.
As a result of their uneasiness, the majority of those interviewed on the bridge felt a friendship with the interviewer and asked him to keep in touch with them. Almost none of those interviewed on the ground felt any friendship for the interviewer. The study’s conclusion was that people’s emotions always tell them facts, but most people can’t immediately (without thought) be sure what the message was. The people on the bridge thought that their uneasiness was a sign of friendship when, in reality, it was a sign of standing on a rickety bridge.
What this means is that although people may feel some emotions and come to some conclusions, they shouldn’t rely on these initial conclusions Emotions are like a runaway train and it’s the intellect that’s the driver. Without the train, people can’t get to where they’re going, but without the driver, they won’t get to the right places.
To live an effective life people must intertwine emotion with intellect. Sometimes this can be done successfully, but at other times, people may only succeed in tempering the negative effect of one of them.
How can a person temper the intellect and emotion? Let’s imagine that people are sitting on a bus. A stranger begins insulting them for no apparent reason. Most people will become unnerved from such an incident. Some will even second guess themselves, and consider that the stranger may have been right. I explain to them when they come to me that although their emotions may make them feel badly, their intellect should realize that there’s nothing about the incident that should affect them. The person was a stranger, is obviously not “all there”, and his comments have no credibility.
However, even after this explanation some people will still feel badly and, therefore, was my explanation any good. The answer is that there’s a difference between people who react and believe that their reaction is correct, and people who’re aware that their reaction is not correct, but can’t stop their reaction. Recognizing that their reaction is not correct but that it is the product of their emotion, tempers and lessons their emotion.
I often tell people that they should not only know what they’re thinking, but also what they’re supposed to be thinking. There’ve been many times that angry parents have asked me for advice, and after I explain to them how to “work out” their emotions, they refuse to accept my advice. After some probing I realize that they’re not only naturally angry (the product of their emotions), but that they also believe they’re supposed to be angry. I’ve had a father angrily say to me that, “I only love my children because I believe it’ll make them Frummer” and a wife angrily complaining about a husband who said, “I don’t want my children being brought up by a person who…”.
In both of these cases, the father/wife felt that if they weren’t angry, they would be considered bad by their own standards, and by others that they respected. They would either not be Bais Yakov enough, or not Chassidish enough, etc. In these cases, I tell them that before I can help them “work through” their emotions, they must ask their Rav, or someone whom they respect, to tell them how they’re supposed to feel. Only after they understand how the Torah wants them to feel (angry, calm etc.), can I help them work towards that feeling.
(Referring back to the example of sitting on a bus). Knowing that one shouldn’t feel badly when a stranger insults them, can’t completely erase the hurt. However, I can temper it enough to help the person recover more quickly and with less scarring. When someone tells me about a hurtful conversation they’ve had with their parents, children, or with someone they respect, I tell them, “first let’s discuss whether they were right in their criticism. If they were, let’s talk about how you can improve based on their criticism. If they were wrong, let’s accept that they were wrong and “work” on how not to feel insulted.
What’s the proper blend of intellect and emotion? (Referring back to the example of the boy learning). Let’s assume that the boy, who was certain that he disliked learning, enjoyed a short learning session with his brother-in-law. After leaving him, he realized that he felt good. Why? The boy must now shift from emotion to intellect, think about it, and come to some conclusion. What made him feel good? Was it the friendship, the learning, the humor incorporated into the learning, or because he finally accomplished something? It’s probably a combination of some, or all, of these possibilities.
After drawing some conclusion, he should test it. If he believes it was his relationship with his brother-in-law, then he should do something besides learning with him. If he feels it was the learning experience, then he should try learning with him again. Once he’s confident of his conclusion, he should use that new knowledge to continue in that direction, either by doing other things with his brother in law, or learning with a Chavruso.
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