Emotion and Values

As discussed in the section on “Acting” (pages 42 ff), an individual’s primal emotions are formed in a separate part of the brain called the limbic system. Subtler emotions may be formed in the neocortex.  The pattern of our emotional responses is not planned or designed by our rational minds.  The pattern is formed by hap­penstance: by the long, long series of successes and failures, rewards and punishments, approvals and disapprovals that we experience beginning in infancy (or before that with the pleasures, discomforts, and possible traumas of fetal development).  Each of us is born into a particular culture.  Each of us is cared for as an infant and a young child by particular parents or parent-substitutes.  This is how our emotional patterns and our sense of values receive their foundations.

As we mature through adolescence and adulthood the repre­sentations of our experience in our neocortex influence the further refinement and the gradual alteration of our emo­tions and values.

The development of our emotions and values can follow infinitely many courses.  The developments can be healthy–leading to vigorous development of our abilities–in some areas, and unhealthy in others.

Healthy developments are easily recognized.  Enjoyment and satis­faction come from the exercise of abilities.  Our enjoyment and satisfaction are relatively greater when we exercise abilities:

1.  In which we are proficient

2.  That are comprehensive or require more subtle dis­crimina­tion, or both

3.  Where there is a greater element of purpose and rational­ity, especially where done as part of an intelligently conceived plan for reaching a clearly desirable goal

4.  Where there is social approval of the purpose and the standards of excellence and where the relevant aspects of the action can be discussed with others

5.  Where the consequences of the action can be reliably predicted

6.  Where the ability contributes to a larger ability

7.  Where done as part of a planned course of acquir­ing and exercising abilities

Ideally these healthy patterns develop as our abilities develop.  As our higher level abilities develop they tend to be utilized more and more, invoking our lower level abili­ties and cultivating competence.  Ideally, too, we learn to recognize our special talents and to move toward finding our own best niche and way of life.

Unhappily, the course of development is not always so wholesome.  We may adopt patterns of behavior from others that limit our growth.  As described in the section, “Self-Disablement and Harming Others” of this chapter (pages 66 ff), the adjustments we make in our habitual responses to certain situations may tend to cripple us.

Groups of people also have emotions and values.  They are an important part of the life of the group.  The emotions usually emanate from the decision-makers to those of lower rank.  Emotions can flow in the other direction also.  Chronic discontents can sour the emotional climate within the group.  As documents and word-of-mouth messages flow within the group they carry an emotional content as well as information.  In business or­gan­izations most of the paper­work is quite humdrum.  But occasion­ally a document carries very good news or very bad news.  Docu­ments have carriers and messages have messengers who may add their own inter­pretation to the news they bear.  Some emotions are fleet­ing, but in other cases an air of optimism or gloom may be pervasive for months or longer.

Generally, each type of information has its own channels of transmission.  And each channel has its own characteris­tics.  It is interesting to know, for instance, how credit and blame get generated and disseminated.

Groups, like individuals, may be said to have their own patterns of emotional response to situations.  Groups also have their own values, but different parts of the group may have radically different values.  The decision-makers at the top tend to have common values.  This is often one of the needed qualifications for being at the top.  When there are strong differences at the top that fact is usually quite evident.

Values and emotions affect decisions and behavior throughout every group.  Each group has its own internal dynamics and its own internal culture–sometimes subcul­tures.  These factors give each group and each segment within a group its own charac­ter or personality.  Presumably these features of a group are shaped by its leadership to a large extent, but just how this takes place is rather much of a mystery.

It would seem that individuals and groups could have some success at analyzing their own emotions and values and determine in some gross way where they were healthy and helpful to the person or group’s well-being and where they were detrimental.  In the more pathological cases, outside help in doing the analysis could be valuable.

It is likely that, to be successful, any effort to re­train the emotions of a person or a group must consist mostly of a retraining of judgment.  When a circumstance or outcome is judged to be desirable we feel positive emotions.  Unfavorable judgments cause negative emotions.  How can we bring about a change in our pat­terns of emotional response (our dispositions) so that we increasingly desire and favor what is truly good and desirable and turn away from what is bad?  The list of seven conditions, given above, that nor­mally create feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction can be used in the retraining of judgment.  By repeatedly examining situations in terms of that list a person or group can learn to more readily recognize when any of those seven condi­tions are present and can thereby learn to approach the intrinsi­cally favorable aspects of situations more positively and con­structively.  At the same time the person or group will learn to recognize unfavorable aspects more clearly.

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