We live in a world where much of society values emotions and biased beliefs over objective facts. We needn’t look far for the evidence surrounding us. Some call this an age of “post-truth” wherein, for example, a celebrity’s unfactual posts on social media carry more political weight in shaping society than statistical and empirical facts. Even academic research is bending to bias and social correctness, which is really just popularism.
On the other hand, some who oppose this “post-truth” movement may do so with different extremes. Stoicism comes to mind, that ancient philosophy which states that humans will find happiness by controlling their emotions, freeing themselves from the influence of passions, and not caring about things beyond their control. While it values virtue and self-control, the methods it suggests for reaching those goals are questionable, and I do not believe it is the solution we need.
What, then, is?
The problem of neglecting logic
Before I offer what I believe to be the solution, let’s take a deeper look at the issues the aforementioned extremes possess.
Post-truth, or any movement that neglects facts that don’t fit the individual’s emotional beliefs or “feelings”, is dangerous. Believing you can fly by jumping off a cliff while flapping your arms, even though biology and physics tell you otherwise, won’t end well. I can think of at least a dozen real-world examples, but to avoid political debate (and tedious paragraphs), I’ll rather use an analogy.
A ten-year-old girl is playing in the rain on an early-autumn afternoon. Her father, noticing a chill in the air, calls her inside. “You might catch a cold,” he says. But she’s having fun, and though she’s old enough to know that what he says is true, she doesn’t care. Logic might have told her that being cold and wet weakens the immune system, which, in a cold-and-flu season, will probably lead to her getting sick. But in the moment she cares only for fun, for passion. So she ignores him. The next day she wakes with a sore throat.
That example was mild. When the disregard of logic reaches a point where people confuse their identities (in wild cases, their humanity), surely it does not bode well for society.
The problem of suppressed emotions
Then we have the other extreme, albeit less-common at this time.
Stoicism, or any movement that neglects the emotions and passions we have as humans, is erroneous. It assumes that your happiness should come from within your circle of influence and that emotionally caring about what happens beyond your control will rob you of peace and joy. But if that is true, how fickle were the peace and joy? Were they even there?
It also assumes that passion should not affect you. Consider this: a soldier should let the tactics and logic that he learned through disciplined practice guide his actions. Yet those actions may require courage, and what fuels that courage? Perhaps passion for his homeland, his family, the things he loves. He wants to defend and protect. Passion can be good. Now a stoic might agree but say, “If it were passion for something beyond your control, it would definitely be bad.”
My response is…why? Why is it bad to feel strongly about something even if you can’t affect it? A school kid in 1940’s America may have felt strongly about the World War, something far beyond his influence. He may have despised the wicked deeds and violence. But in such cases, is it not good to be upset? Does it not reflect strength of character, resolution of values, and firmness of belief?
We were created with the ability to reason with logic and facts. We were also created with emotions to feel and care, laugh, cry, and very much not want to touch burning coal. Why discard one of these gifts for the other? Why place one on a pedestal? Use both, in balance. Appreciate your emotions; don’t let them control you. Practice logic; don’t numb your heart for it. This is not mastering a philosophical discipline, nor applying mythical techniques.
This is maturity.
As I reach the end of this post, I feel obliged (and excited) to add another consideration. Our emotions can mislead us. Our logic can be flawed. Even in maturity and morality, and with good intentions, we can make mistakes that hurt ourselves and others. How, then, can we choose, act, plan, think, and speak in ways that are…right? Well, as humans, I don’t believe we can. That is, not on our own. The good news is that accepting Christ’s gift of salvation is also accepting His Holy Spirit, His presence, and the ability to hear His voice (see 1 Corinthians 2).
Jesus is trustworthy, His ways are perfect and unshakable, and He has a plan for each of us. If we can follow that plan freely, empowered and guided by Him, we needn’t worry.