Passion, values and emotion-shaming

I’ve watched a lot of fights unfold over the years, within organizations or communities, between people with different political views—you name it. And in every fight, sooner or later someone calls someone else out for being too emotional.

This really pisses me off.

Accusing someone of arguing from emotions is a derailing tactic.

  • It’s used as a strawman tactic to distract people from the actual issues under discussion.
  • It’s used to establish a clear divide between rational and emotional realities, and to assert that one has value and the other is bad.
  • It’s used as a gaslighting tactic against people to make them think their experience of reality is not real. “Why are you so emotional about this? It’s just a joke.”
  • It’s used as a tactic to dismiss people and their opinions (especially women, who are traditionally associated with emotionality) and as an excuse not to engage with the substance of what that person is saying: “It’s impossible to talk rationally with [name] about this because they are too emotional about the subject.”
  • It’s used as a shaming tactic to make people shut up.

I think it’s relatively rare that someone only argues from emotion and nothing else; it’s much more likely that they have concrete reasons for their position that they are having difficulty articulating. But even if they are, so what? A purely emotional argument is not likely to be effective in changing anyone’s opinions, but it’s not a bad thing in itself.

Let me repeat that.

Having emotions is not a bad thing.

In fact, having emotions—passions, even!—is a good thing. It’s an amazing source of strength and energy. It provides us with balance. Our emotions reflect the intensity of our values. Those values don’t spring fully-fledged from a random emotion, they are based on our needs and experiences.

The things that we value will vary from person to person, and may change over our lives. When I was younger I valued living in the city: a certain type of community, energy, excitement, access to an incredible range of resources… now I value living in a more rural environment with a different type of community, fewer people, more space and less noise. The fact that I now value a rural environment higher than a city doesn’t mean that the city has no value, it simply reflects my current needs and experience. There are logical, rational reasons for all of the attributes I valued then, and there are logical, rational reasons for all of the attributes I value now.

These rational reasons are of course accompanied by an emotional component. Where I choose to live is connected to my sense of home, and that has a very strong emotional resonance for me, as it does for most people. The emotion comes from the value that we place on our home, and again, that value generally results from very practical, logical attributes. A home is warm and safe. It provides the things you need. It is a container for other things that you value (including loved ones). It is completely reasonable for us to value our homes for practical reasons (financial investment!) and equally reasonable for us to feel strong emotions about it.

Gabriola, as it is now, has that sense of “home” for many of us. It’s not surprising that the proposal of a bridge may be seen by many as a threat, because we recognize that a bridge has the potential to change things about our community that we value. You may not believe that those changes will happen, or not understand why people feel emotionally about them.

If your values differ from mine, my emotions will not make sense to you. But that does not invalidate the reasons for my valuing the things I do.

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