Feelings, for all my life I'll feel it.So, is that last line a lament or a threat?
I wish I've never met you, girl;
You'll never come again.
If you're too young to remember those horrid lyrics you should consider yourself blessed. If you can't help yourself, you can find the song they come from here.
Speaking strictly musically, it's actually a pretty good song. It's the lyrics that make it abominable. And, odd as this may sound Morris Albert is, philosophically, in the same camp as Dante (maybe) and Proust (definitely) about feelings. That is to say, he thinks of feelings as things that happen to us. Dante, in case you are wondering, considered involuntary love to be superior to cultivated affection and Proust thought involuntary memories of the past to be superior to willful attempts of "remembrance of things past" (which is why he hated that title when it was applied to the English translation of his novel).
It's an open question as to whether Dante really believed this or whether it, and his supposed love for Beatrice, were just a literary convention. I think he was too smart to really believe it or really love Beatrice myself. To really believe it seems to me to be a modern problem; it seems to be, as Gottlob Frege put it, a disease in thought peculiar to the modern mind.
In any case, what Morris Albert and Proust share is a belief that there are authentic mental stirrings that are not result of our efforts and that these are superior—even if they cause us pain—to things we consciously try to achieve because they are not sought after.
I think that's just wrong. Feelings are not something that happens to me; they are my reaction to what happens to me. I can control my reactions. I can't control them perfectly. It is going to be difficult for me to control my feelings if I really have to catch the 8:15 bus and the driver doesn't see me at the stop and heads right by. On the other hand, the ancients judged men by how well they handled such situations; men were expected to respond in a controlled way when sentenced to death, for example.
That may seem like so much nonsense now but I believe that controlling your feelings makes you and your life better than they otherwise would be. It not only does no good to get all worked up over the missed bus, it decreases the quality of my life to do so. We're told the opposite. We're told to open up and let our feelings out.
But letting anger out just makes you unhappy. Your pulse races, your body releases adrenalin and you get all tense. You don't feel better for doing it. You feel worse. And people who have to deal with you feel worse too because you become difficult to deal with.
Look at Morris Albert again, a woman has left him and he wishes he'd never met her. Is that healthy? He is now going to treat his entire relationship with this woman as something negative. There are no good memories? There are no lessons learned that he can apply to future relationships? The woman he once loved is so utterly worthless that it would have been better to have never met her? That's a stupid, self-destructive way of considering a past relationship.
The feelings we have about a failed relationship are within our control. We can shape them and mold them; we can train ourselves to respond in certain ways.
Self-analysis is useless for this. What, if anything, would self analysis mean? Notice that any attempt to describe self analysis requires us to use metaphors that do not, in fact, correspond to any real activity: "look deep withing myself", "turn inward", and so forth. What we can know and what we can control are our outward responses. To the extent that we talk about inward responses at all, we do so in a negative way: "stay calm", "don't sit around mulling about it", "don't get worked up".
What we really have when we have feelingsOne of the more telling linguistic shifts of modern times has been the substitution of words meaning feelings for words meaning belief. Jennifer says, "I feel like you don't trust me?" As many have pointed out before me, the primary consequence of that shift is to make these statements incontestable. The assumption is that you cannot be mistaken about your own feelings. If I am in pain, then I am in pain and you can't say I'm not.
And there is something to that. Randy may respond to Jennifer by saying he is jealous, and he probably is jealous (although people do lie about such things sometimes). But it should be reasonable to ask whether Jennifer and Randy are entitled to feel the way they do. It's telling that Jennifer doesn't want to have an argument about the facts. Did her actions cause Randy to suspect her? It's equally telling that Randy wants to talk about his feelings of jealousy rather than discuss what actions of Jennifer's might justify his jealousy. What both are trying to do is to avoid acknowledging that their feelings are the result of a thought process. Each has considered the others actions and has reached conclusions about what the other is thinking or doing.
Randy notices that Jennifer is always away and that her absences aren't always explained, that the explanations she does give are vague and perhaps they sometimes don't stand scrutiny. Randy knows this doesn't necessarily mean Jennifer is cheating but he wonders and it shows. This feeling isn't something that just happened to Randy. It took sustained effort on his part to arrive at this feeling.
Jennifer, likewise, knows that things she is doing are causing Randy to wonder. It's not some bizarre, unexpected discovery that he is beginning to wonder what she is up to. Let's stipulate, for the sake of the argument, that Jennifer is not actually cheating on Randy. All she is doing is beginning to develop an independent life away from him. The argument could go either way. What is important to note, however, is that in neither case are their feelings something that just happened to them. Their feelings are the product of the way they have analyzed the actions of the other and of how they have responded.
In both cases, it would be entirely reasonable to ask if these feelings were justified.
One of the telling things about modern life is that we tend not to do that. We tend to do just the opposite. When we train people to interact with others, we teach them to validate their feelings. We teach them to say, "You must be frustrated", or "I understand your anger" because we don't challenge people's right to really have their feelings. When couples see a therapist they are encouraged to discuss the way they feel and not to discuss what they do or don't like about what the other did. Ironically, liberal democracy, which was built on the right to free expression of political and religious beliefs, now suppresses freedom of expression of fact and opinion because of the effect this expression might have on the feelings of others.
This is turning us into a bunch losers and it's undermining the basis of our society. There isn't much we can do about the first but we can at least stop pretending that we don't control our own feelings and start taking responsibility for them.