For somebody who writes a lot about feelings, I don’t really understand much about my own.
I know I have them. That’s a start.
Part of the problem, I think, is that feelings act as a sort of prism on the world. Things happen ‘out there’, but we always experience them having passed through the prism of our own feelings. It can be hard to see our own feelings clearly, because they are part of our observing mechanism.
For that reason, I often like to focus on other people’s feelings: they can be easier to see clearly. The difficult part, of course, is that other people rarely share their full feelings: close friends may, in the rare times and places they feel both impelled to, and comfortable with, sharing them. So we are usually called upon to use a type of imagination: how would we feel in their place?
Below are three separate examples, about three different people.
She has one, and she’d like another,
But the magic just won’t come,
And all the ways she knows to do it
They cannot afford.
How do you explain to people –
What words do you use to say —
How one perfect child
She knows she should be grateful, but
Her shower has known far more water
Than the nozzle supplies,
And heard sounds that
There are no human words for.
For sixty years, he worked with teenage girls
Who, like him, knew the struggle of addiction:
But when, at eighty-two, he finally stopped,
He realized, it had been them keeping him alive
And not the other way around
Who is this boy, this youngest child of mine,
Who reacts so strongly to the smallest word?
“It isn’t all-or-nothing” we always say,
But, to him, such language is absurd,
For there is right and wrong and nothing else:
Critique to him is poison, fire, burn –
But how will he know when to change his course
When he just cannot, cannot, will not
“Try to understand before you criticize.” This is almost certainly the main principle I got from my years of studying philosophy.
Because often, once you understand, the desire to criticize goes away.