Rebuttal to “Feelings aren’t all for feeling”

Everyone seemed to disagree with yesterday’s post. I got one particularly thoughtful email reply from David Fisher, who agreed to let me copy/paste it here. I think it’s a fair and compelling rebuttal:

I wanted to soft disagree with your hard disagree from today’s post. The gap I find in Stoicism (or at least the version that’s talked about today) is that it’s an over-intellectualization of the process of living. If you posit that all of life is simply what we think, then yes, the key to living better is simply to edit your thoughts. But a few thoughts:

  • Our experience, our feelings, and our thoughts are driven by more than our brain.
    Emotion has been shown as a valuable tool that helps us to navigate the world and make decisions, so to talk about useful ones presupposes a knowledge of the perfect endgame.
  • Stoicism doesn’t give a whole lot of tools to not engage with negative emotions. I think it’s popular right now because a big part of American culture has moved away from wanting to give any credence to emotions at all. It’s why burnout is a big business topic, because we have often extolled not paying attention to the clues that our bodies and minds give us.
  • I actually find Stoicism a very useful tool, but have preferred to use it in line with a Zen Buddhist approach which focuses on acknowledging and accepting all of the thoughts and emotions, and then working to see them as ephemeral and transient. So I would say it actually is important to respect the emotions – they came from somewhere and were caused by something. But you don’t have to live in them. You can go, “Oh, there’s the feeling of envy, of fear, of anger. I recognize it. I respect that it’s there. And now I’m going to work to let it go.”

Not an easy process by any means. But I’ve met too many self-professed Stoics who are simmering balls of emotional dysfunction and use the philosophy to try to push it under the rug. 😉

Thanks David, well said.

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