(Essay) On the Dangers of Confusing EJ and EQ

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It is important to draw a distinction between emotional intelligence (EQ) and emotional judgment (EJ). Emotional intelligence is empathetic: it entails the hard act of thinking one’s self into another person’s shoes. It is an intellectual endeavor for the sake of achieving the proper emotional disposition toward other people and requires deep thinking. Emotional judgmental, on the other hand, is the act of gaging the validity of a truth based on one’s emotional reaction to it. The problem with EJ is that it requires one to consistently experience a positive emotion in order to verify, justify, or appreciate experiences, ideas, and so on. Not only is the human body incapable of maintaining such a high and constant emotional level, but emotions are unreliable. Rationalism, alone, is also unreliable, for the rational mind requires the acceptances of premises before it can begin thinking, premises which often can neither be proven nor invalidated, say until attempted, which maybe when it is already ‘too late’. EQ can help an individual accept premises and interact with what cannot be rationalized, making one’s IQ more effective and true. IQ requires EQ as EQ requires IQ for a person to judge, feel, and think properly, efficiently, and meaningfully. EJ is EQ without IQ, and it’s as dangerous and misguided as movements like positivism or scientism which disregards EQ for IQ.

I

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For the EJ (or one who deals with EJ tendencies), something is judged as true if a positive emotional reaction is felt upon experiencing it, while something is false if a negative emotional reaction is felt. Perhaps an emotional reaction is an indication of the direction one’s judgment should head, but it shouldn’t constitute the whole judgement. ‘The truth’ can be something a person doesn’t want to confront, and if the person has EJ tendencies, the individual will conclude he or she is justified to avoid the truth, it making the person feel negatively, and thus the truth is perceived as false. Also, reaching the truth usually takes long periods of unemotional thinking and introspection, both of which an EJ is likely to avoid, feeling that such actions are unproductive. Yet, if given a chance, thinking and introspection might ‘prove’ unproductive for an EJ if grounded in emotionalism (rather than empathy or facts), which can lead to over-analysis (as there is no rational end to emotional thinking). Because it was done in a mode of subjectivity versus objectivity, having attempted introspection without results, this may seem to validate the EJ’s suspicions. Consequently, the EJ may forgo introspection, thinking it was given a fair chance, even though objective introspection is necessary for determining truth.

Being one’s own standard of judgment, it tends to be the case that an individual that is susceptible to EJ will associate no emotional reaction with the negative. A lack of emotional reaction does not connote ‘sadness’, though the EJ will likely project ‘sadness’ onto neutrality — a dangerous step. For example, if a child tells her mother that she had a good day at school and the mother doesn’t feel anything (perhaps because she is busy with the dishes), the mother could come to believe that she doesn’t care. The mother could then conclude that she is not happy that her daughter had a good day and could try to make herself feel happy, feeling guilty and blaming herself for not loving her daughter like she should. Yet trying to feel happy is often a futile effort, for feelings are organic: they are not readily chosen. Upon failing to feel happy, the mother may come to judge herself as a poor mother. Upon doing this, she may try harder to feel something, only to fail again. And if she does succeed, the success will only last as long as does the emotion. Due to her EJ tendencies, the mother may enter a cycle of failure and set herself up for depression.

It is vital to draw a distinction between ‘feeling happy’ and ‘being happy’. One can choose to be happy, but one cannot readily choose to feel happy. If one chooses to be happy, the person will have prepared his or her self to feel happy when the emotion organically and unexpectedly comes, but the one who doesn’t will find that all attempts to feel happy fail and are at best temporary. Feelings are like the wind, coming and going, unable to be bottled up; one can only choose to put themselves outside for when the wind might blow.

It is vital to draw a distinction between ‘feeling happy’ and ‘being happy’. One can choose to be happy, but one cannot readily choose to feel happy. If one chooses to be happy, the person will have prepared his or her self to feel happy when the emotion organically and unexpectedly comes, but the one who doesn’t will find that all attempts to feel happy fail and are at best temporary. Feelings are like the wind, coming and going, unable to be bottled up; one can only choose to put themselves outside for when the wind might blow.

In response to the idea that we need to choose to ‘be happy’ versus just ‘feel happy’, some may argue that this is dishonest: if I don’t feel happy, then I cannot ‘be happy’, and claiming ‘I am happy’ would be ingenious, dishonest, and possibly self-destructive. Though there’s legitimacy to this concern, the mistake is thinking of ‘happiness’ only in terms of being an emotional state felt now as opposed to a goal to live out and practice constantly. If I only think of emotions as something that come and go, then I can only think about saying ‘I am happy’ in terms of an assessment of my current state, and if I don’t feel happy, saying ‘I am happy’ would be false. However, if I also think of emotions as goals to strive toward, to say ‘I am happy’ is like saying ‘I am practicing happiness’, similar to how saying ‘I am a doctor’ means ‘I am practicing medicine’. The phrase ‘I am happy’ can both be in reference to how one feels now and what I am practicing to both feel and better control feeling, but where EJ is involved, only the first meaning is at play. This results in not thinking of emotions as goals, only states, and so emotions come to control people more than people control emotions.

This is not to say that if a person feels sadness, the person should always deny the truth of those feelings, but it is to say that a person should not engage in EJ to determine the legitimacy of that sadness, but instead EQ. While EQ can help a person determine if the sadness is evidence of a deep problem that needs to be addressed and how to address it, EJ will only result in a person concluding that ‘I am sad; therefore, x is bad’. Perhaps ‘x is bad’, but that should be determined by EQ, not EJ. Additionally, acknowledging the feeling of sadness now should be for the emotional goal of not feeling sadness later: emotions need to be simultaneously understood as both assessments of present states and goals to reach so that the right dialectical balance is struck.

If one wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘today I’m going to be happy’, and means ‘today I’m going to feel happy’, that individual has promised to accomplish something the person has no control over. This is a risky endeavor; failure is probable. One never knows what conversations will arise, what tasks will come one’s way — what a day holds can never be known until the day is over. If one believes that he or she must feel happy to validate the day, the person will end most days feeling like a failure. It is of the utmost importance that a person commits to ‘being happy’ versus ‘feeling happy’. The first position takes into account the realities of life, while the second raises the bar too high. In a way, the second is an attempt to live by law instead of by grace: the first is to establish the law that ‘I will feel happy’ instead of simply being.

It is also important to draw a distinction between ‘being’ and ‘doing nothing’, and to make clear that to choose to be happy is not to simply accept the status quo. Being self-aware challenges being, and if one is bent on feeling positive emotions, one will be overly self-aware. Judgments require objectivity, and the more self-aware an individual is, the more subjective he or she will likely be. This is because the person focuses on how he, she, and others feel, which is prone to suddenly change, versus objective and constant truth. Feelings are also not a good foundation for empathy; empathy grounded in reason is much more likely to ‘put one in another person’s shoes’. ‘2 x 2 = 4’ is easily relayed between individuals because it is a fact and remains true over time; there is little if any room for interpretation. Emotions are much harder to translate and prone to oscillate without warning; they are more temporal than timeless. Expressions like ‘2 x 2 = 4’ have a much better chance of being relayed correctly versus what is more emotive.

In EJ, subjectivity builds upon subjectivity, as if objective, often constructing an entire system explaining the nature of a given situation, without truth. The irony is that the system will, relative to itself, make sense, and therefore seem to fundamentally validate the EJ. For example, a person who sees no emotional response from another will fear that that person isn’t happy. Consequently, the EJ person will ask questions or act in a manner that makes the other feel uncomfortable. This will make the other appear unhappy, which will confirm to the EJ that their emotional judgment was valid. What you fear is what comes unto you, as what you feel, you feel into reality.

Often, the soft-hearted person is not solely after their own experience of positive emotion, but for the sensation that comes from knowing that others also feel good. This desire must ultimately be based on what the soft-hearted person has emotionally judged as a positive emotional experience, and he or she will naturally assume others desire the same emotional experience in the same way. If a soft-hearted individual believes another is experiencing a negative emotion, the person will emotionally judge that he or she needs to step in and make things right, which is achieved when the other feels good. Yet this very act can be what makes others upset or feel awkward. If the individual were to judge their need to step in or act based on facts rather than feelings, these kinds of mistakes, beget between subjectivities, could be better avoided. Yet to the EJ, feelings are virtually facts, and identifying the difference between a fact and a feeling requires objectivity which an EJ can struggle to have. This is why EJ tendencies can be so problematic: they trap the person within a self-justifying loop, which, motivated by good intentions, is hard to recognize needs correction and certainly not praise.

Emotional judgment is contradictory yet prevalent. EJ is often behind the decision between friends to keep the truth from one another in fear of hurting one another’s feelings, and EJ is behind the support for unsustainable, humanitarian programs (to list some examples). The less EJ the better, but rising IQ is only good insomuch as it rises with EQ. Ironically, EJ can keep people from experiencing emotions objectively and fully.

II

For people to choose to be happy is for them to choose to open themselves up to authentic emotional experiences. People who are determined to feel happy have set themselves up to end up like a drunkard, always looking for another emotional gulp, focused on what will make them feel a certain way versus what things are and taking pleasure in the being of those things. A person should enjoy a sunset not because it makes them feel joy, but because it is a sunset. A sunset is wonderful because it is itself, not because it makes people feel wonderful. In a way, it is egotistical to believe a sunset is wonderful because ‘I feel it to be’ versus because ‘it is’. The first statement implies the sunset is validated by, and needs, the viewer, rather than the viewer need raise his or her self and perception up to meet the wonder of the sunset. This isn’t to say there isn’t a subjective dimension to beauty, goodness, or truth, but that if we believe beauty isn’t both an attribute of things and a perception, only a perception, then beauty cannot call us to higher states of being, nor can we fight EJ tendencies (a line of argument addressed full in “On Beauty” by O.G. Rose). Similar logic can be applied to art a viewer does not like. Like art, which requires distance from the viewer to be appreciated, emotions require distance, fashioned by reason, for the feeling to be fulfilling. Order is everything: if feelings come before being, both can be lost, founded on ironic egotism, but if being comes before feelings, both can be actualized, the very thing the EJ longs to do.

It is not possible to feel nothing, because there is no such thing as nothing. When an EJ says ‘I just don’t feel anything’, the person means ‘I don’t feel what I want to feel in the way I want to feel it’. To be is to feel and to feel is to be: one cannot be and not feel. Yet the two must be in the right order: being precedes feeling. If one concentrates on feeling at the expense of who he or she is, then the person will lose both emotions and identity. It is a grave mistake for one to construct their identity on their feelings, rather than construct their feelings on their identity. This is because once he or she stops feeling what one expects to feel, the person will feel like nothing, which is a contradiction that brings about despair, anxiousness, and depression. Existentialists have called this experience ‘alienation’, and have identified that a person can avoid it by being on a hamster wheel, per se: if you never sit still, you won’t have to face it. Considering this, emotional judgment likely contributes to society’s unwillingness to introspect productively. Without objective introspection, there cannot be an understanding or development of one’s identity, as necessary for authentic experience and a foundation for feelings to be constructed upon. If one doesn’t know one’s self, the person doesn’t know who feels and their emotions will always be out of reach.

An area where a lack of true introspection has clear and dangerous ramifications is in relationships. Physical interactions trigger emotions: feeling a person stimulates feelings. A person with EJ tendencies who also engages physically with another before commitment will likely lack a clear sense of whether or not this is someone with whom the person should be in a relationship. In fact, the EJ may pursue a serious relationship with someone totally destructive to the EJ, blinded by emotional, physically-stimulated judgment. Rational judgment should come before physical involvement; if physicality comes first, it becomes much harder and more painful to get back to objectivity. Sex with someone who a person is not committed to can severely dull a person’s judgment and make that person believe the relationship is stronger than it actually is. Emotions aren’t a firm basis for a marriage and physical activity will contribute to misjudgment, rather than validate ‘true love’. Sex however, that is based on full and rational awareness, will likely bring about great joy. You can only love who you know, and though the word ‘know’ equally implies the intellectual and the intimate, the intellectual must come first. Love must be thoughtful. Only those willing to ‘die to’ their feelings will love others ‘until death do them part’. ‘I love you’ means ‘I know you’, and in that expression, it’s important to note that ‘I’ comes first, which requires thought and introspection to define. There is a big difference between being in love and feeling or ‘falling’ in love: the first never forgets what it has felt and why, while the second lasts until the emotion wears out. ‘I love you’ signifies both a fact and a feeling, and each signification requires the other to have meaning.

The longer an individual continues a relationship without a foundation, the more that person will likely want to avoid introspection and serious thinking about it, subconsciously aware that this very act risks ruining the relationship and causing emotional turmoil, which the EJ will want to avoid, naturally associating negative emotions and pain with ‘wrong’. This will tempt the individual to avoid the inevitable longer, which will cause more pain in the long run. The longer the individual waits, the more painful it will be when the person does confront what must be confronted, which will make it more tempting to put it off. And so a vicious cycle begins, especially if the relationship is between two EJs, suddenly into engagement, then marriage. The irony of these kinds of situations is that usually the parties involved know something is wrong, even though everyone acts like all is well. When a person finally names the problem, it is no revelation: it can be a breath of fresh air; the truth all stared at, but pretended not to see, is finally present. Actually addressing such a situation though can be very painful (like removing a drug from an addict), which can make an EJ conclude persistence is wrong. However, if the EJ perseveres, freedom and authenticity will be achieved.

Another problem with the EJ mindset is that it doesn’t motivate a person to act until he or she feels motivated to act. In the situations mentioned above (which crop up in everything from personal decisions to politics to economics), a person will not ‘say what needs to be said’ or ‘do what needs to be done’ until the person feels urgency or feels like he or she should. This is usually when it is too late to act. A person, to make a difference, must intellectually consent to the urgency long before the urgency is ever felt (if the person is to make any meaningful difference). An EJ however, unless feeling motivated or emotionally justified, will probably not act. When the EJ does act, what occurs will probably not feel good, which the EJ could then use as evidence that he or she should have never acted in the first place. Also, if a person does not act unless he or she feels motivated, and if that person inflates ‘feeling nothing’ with ‘not wanting to’, when the person doesn’t feel like painting, for example, the person may conclude that he or she doesn’t want to be a painter. The EJ may then quit painting or never try to be a painter, as the EJ may abandon a business, etc.

On the other hand, if a person acts because the person ‘feels urgent’ rather than because ‘urgency is needed’, the person will be prone to making mistakes. Also, determining whether a situation actually requires urgency requires objective introspection, which, as already touched on, an EJ can struggle to have. Urgency without introspection is problematic, and an EJ who acts when action will make things worse will be hard to get to back down until that individual doesn’t ‘feel urgency’. To calm down, the EJ needs to listen and think objectively, but ‘feeling urgent’, the EJ will find these kinds of activities to be the exact opposite of what needs to be done.

Not only does an EJ mindset make an individual put off action until it’s too late or act when it’s better to wait, it also works against the person’s constitution and determination to stand by their actions or statements. The person will always emotionally judge their non-emotional judgment as an error, and so be tempted to backtrack. If the decisions or actions of the EJ upset others, it will be tempting for that EJ to ‘rationally’ conclude that he or she made a mistake and to apologize. If the EJ backs down, the vicious loop will continue: the more the EJ backtracks, the harder it will be to break the cycle. The EJ must ‘die to their self’, per se, to escape the loop and develop the determination necessary to be successful and fully human. This is because the EJ self is constructed from feelings versus being, and that self must make way for a self of being. Feelings are to color one’s identity, not be one’s identity.

If a person is told that something is wrong and that person, an EJ, does not feel as if it’s wrong, the person will not necessarily listen to the council. Speaking with an EJ can be difficult, because words have emotional charges that a given speaker, less emotive, may not grasp. The difference between getting an EJ’s support or acceptance could hinge upon saying ‘I’m looking forward to it’ instead of ‘I’ll be there’. Ironically, individuals aware of the EJ paradox who are trying to explain it to an EJ may not be attuned to the words they are using, and so use terms that make the EJ feel uneasy and lean the EJ toward feeling that what is being said is wrong or even hurtful. When the one trying to explain the situation gets frustrated, this will be further evidence to the EJ that he or she is right. Perhaps an EJ reading this paper will conclude it is wrong because they feel that the paper is cold, thus proving the paper’s thesis.

III

Thinking and feelings are not opposed to one another; thinking is the foundation for feelings, and thinking without feelings is lifeless. It is not an ‘either/or’ question, but a question of order. Being is first; the feelings of that being are second. This isn’t to imply hierarchy, but rather to simply state a fact: the foundation of a house must come before the house: that’s just the way things work.

If I am happy, then nothing can take my happiness away. If I feel happy, it will last until I feel sad. If I am in love, nothing can take my love away; if I have fallen in love, it will last until I stand up. There is freedom in choice, but in emotion one’s freedom is controlled. If one freely chooses that which causes emotions, the loss of control will be an expression of one’s freedom; one does not get both freedom and emotion the other way around. Authenticity requires freedom, without which one can never have the liberty to be one’s self. Emotions enslave unless they are secondary to being and identity; subjectivity cannot be a foundation, but must be founded upon objectivity and be what objectivity undergoes. One can also be enslaved to the emotions of others if a person needs, for example, others to be happy when he or she is successful to fully enjoy the success. Emotions are more gripping than ideas, even good ideas: they feel like they’re in control and/or that they’re supposed to be in control. Consequently, it’s easy to give emotions power over our lives, but this temptation must be resisted. In the wrong order, emotions burden; in the right order, emotions make the facts of life alive. Choose to be happy, rather than wait for it and miss out on life. Step outside of your emotions to truly find them.

Live for truth, not feelings, and authentic emotions will come. Truth is the only thing that will set a person free, and, liberated, a person is able to live without being a victim to the tossing and turning of emotion’s ocean. Don’t just feel happy; be happy. Don’t look to the sensational for sense; look to sense to sense.

2020 UNO Prize Finalist. The Write Launch. Iowa Review. Allegory Ridge. Streetlight. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M Review. Poydras. www.ogrose.com

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