Hello. You wrote recently, "I can and have made conscious adjustments to my emotions for political reasons" - if there are any instances you don't mind mentioning publicly, would you be willing to explain how you did this, and why? (I reacted to this statement with envy at the idea of voluntary control over one's emotions and horror at the political-reasons part, so it seems there's a double gap in my understanding.)
Yeah, sure. First I should clarify that I’m using “political” in a pretty broad sense here. I’m not going to try to give a cohesive general definition of “politics”, but issues where there is significant controversy over what culture should look like tend to be perceived as political issues even when they have nothing to do with government policy, and that kind of cultural question is primarily what I had in mind.
Here are some things which I used to react to with amusement and a loss of respect for the person in question: Speaking a low-status dialect of English, speaking English poorly because it’s a second language, having difficulty performing any “easy” mental task. After finding discussion of these issues in social justice writing on the internet, I realized that the societal treatment of those things as shameful is actually really harmful, and I started trying to eliminate my own scorn reaction in such cases. (I’ll talk about methods a little later.) Changing my emotional reaction had a number of advantages, but the greatest one was this: I knew that showing scorn would be harmful and I don’t have a good poker face, so for me the easiest way to stop showing scorn was to stop feeling it.
Another, more personal, example: Writings about gender which characterize men as an outgroup, either by suggesting that men are sort of evil or by making them into an incomprehensible Other, used to feel really validating for me. I would read them, and I would agree with them, and by agreeing with them I would affirm my own membership in the class of women. (This would happen even before I realized I was trans, which is a weird phenomenon that might deserve its own post. But anyway.) When I realized how those attitudes could be harmful, I started working on changing how I reacted to them. Here, the main advantage to changing my emotional reaction was the avoidance of bias: I didn’t want to embrace incorrect and harmful ideas just because they made me feel good.
Before I talk about the methods I used to change my emotional reactions, I want to emphasize a few things:
These examples are cases where I personally found it worthwhile to adjust my emotions. No one has any obligation to do the same, and depending on your circumstances it might actually be a bad idea to try.
My mind is not your mind. What worked for me might not work for you.
These are cases where there was a dissonance between my values and my emotions. When no such dissonance exists, I wouldn’t expect the techniques I used to work very well for anyone.
The changes that I achieved were real, but they were slow, and partial.
After all this build-up you might be expecting some sort of clever secret technique, in which case this might be a little disappointing. There are two primary techniques I used to adjust my emotions.
One was basically “fake it ‘til you make it”: I thought about how I would act if I didn’t feel any scorn for someone’s accent, for example, and tried to act that way even if it wasn’t what I was feeling. The desire to change my behavior was the primary motivator for wanting to change my emotions, but focusing on the behavior directly was a pretty effective way to produce that emotional change.
The other technique I used was training myself to notice when I was feeling the unwanted emotion and challenge it by reminding myself of how it was dissonant with my values. So if someone was speaking a low-status dialect of English and I felt scorn, I’d remind myself that there’s nothing shameful about speaking in that dialect. When challenging unwanted emotions it was also helpful for me to remind myself where they came from, like “I feel this way because people use dialects as a class signifier” or “I only feel this way because of my dysphoria”.
It’s tempting to speculate about failure modes and how these might need to be adjusted for different people’s needs, but if I’m being honest, all I know is what worked for me. So let me just close this by saying, again, that you don’t have to do this, and if attempting it causes you a lot of distress, you probably shouldn’t.
A desperate city-slicker engineer cheats his way into a small farming community, pretending to know how to save them by refinancing their slaughterhouse not knowing that he’s walking into a local war of small-town politics and general misbehaving. (IMDB)
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