Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Feelings--Nothing More than Feelings

I recently had an interesting conversation with a neuro-linguist* who was arguing that no one does anything or cares about anything that doesn't affect him or her directly in some way. We were discussing politics at the time, and his point was that the war in Iraq doesn't really affect me, so why do I care?

I, of course, took this to mean that the gentleman in question would have disagreed with John Donne's "No Man is an Island":

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I therefore fired back, arguing that while my everday life is much the same now as it was before the U.S. invaded Iraq, I still care because it's wrong that atrocities are being carried out by our troops and against our troops in the name of "democracy." The problem, however, was that I was misunderstanding his argument. He wasn't arguing that I shouldn't care about the war in Iraq--instead, he wanted me to be explicitly clear with myself how I feel and why I care. It ultimately boiled down to this (which is, obviously, paraphrased, since it took me a little longer to come around to what he was actually saying vs. what I thought he was saying):
Him: How does the Iraq war actually affect your life?
Me: When I watch the news, it pisses me off. I get upset.
Him: All right, so it makes you feel upset.
Me: Well, yeah.
Him: Why do you watch the news, then, if it upsets you?
Me: Because I feel cut-off if I don't.
Him: So, for you, it's more important for you not to feel cut off, even if it does upset you?
Me: ... yeah.

Now, some of you might be wondering two things: (a) Why is this connection between feelings and actions important? and (b) Why am I telling you about it?

First of all, the neuro-linguist's point was that none of us does things because we think it's a good idea. We do things because we feel like doing them. I know it would be a good idea to eat less sugar. However, I often feel like eating sugar, so I do it even though I know it's not good for me. It's only because I feel like working out that I do it. Battered wives know it's a bad idea to stay with an abusive husband, but they feel hopeful that the husbands will change. Feelings, not knowledge or beliefs, determine actions.

And the reason that I'm sharing this with you is this: I read because I feel like it. I enjoy the reading process, I enjoy thinking and talking about it afterwards, I enjoy the feeling of knowing I've read one of the most important books/poems/plays in western history. The reason other people don't read is that they don't enjoy it--they don't get any feelings of satisfaction. If anything, they feel bored or frustrated.

My point is this: rather than sharing more reading-is-good-for-you-and-television-is-bad-for-you facts, I (and you) should try to encourage positive feelings in those who do read. We shouldn't reward children for reading--reading itself should be considered a reward, an indulgence, a treat. The problem is that this is probably mostly effective for children, since you can't go around giving positive reinforcements to adults without sounding at least a little bit condescending. Anyone have any ideas as to how to encourage other people to feel like actually picking up a book?____________________________________________________________________

*For those of you who aren't familiar with the tenets of neuro-linguistics, check out the ever-reliable wikipedia:


Daniele said...

Well, lending them one of your books usually gets them to read it...By the way, Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris, is probably the most lent out book in my collection. I highly recommend it if you haven't read it. I guess the best description would be it's a collection of memoirs, but that makes it sound boring and it's actually a very funny book. I was first introduced to it in a calculus class my freshman year of college. I was sitting in the back, dozing (like I do in math classes), and the guy sitting next to me handed me the book and pointed out a story in the second half saying it would keep me awake. The story was called Picka Pocketoni and it's about obnoxious American tourists he once ran into who assumed that since the ran into him in Europe, he didn't speak English (he's actually from New York). I almost laughed out loud in the middle of lecture and the next week I went out and bought the book. So if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it. It's an entertaining, easy read, but it's a lot of fun.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

You're the second or the third person to recommend that book to me, so I might have to try it. I'm in the middle of four or five books right now, so I'm thinking I should try to finish one of those first, though...

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