Feelings vs Action #1

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The relationship between feeling and action is interesting in how consistently it is confused today. And not simply confused, but completely flip flopped at almost every turn.

Feelings are seen as the cause of action. When I feel “good”, I am able to be kind. When I am in a “bad mood”, then rudeness and unkindness cannot be helped.

While this is certainly consistant with modern worldviews in which human beings really are just complex machines with the mere illusion of free will, it is a grave error in understanding feelings and action.

Take love, in the modern mind, as an example of the collosal but consistant misplacement of the involvement of feelings and action.

Love is consistantly seen as a feeling that leads to good actions. When two people “fall in love” they do loving things like buy gifts, make sacrifices, and get married. However, they really can’t be expected to keep “doing” these things when the fall out of love, can they?

Like the old song “I’ve lost that loving feeling”, the “feeling” of love is sought for with good intentions. The good feeling is sought so that through the feeling, the good actions might be made possible. When the good feelings are absent, we mourn our inability to do good, and continue to seek the return of good feelings.

In my own relationships, my own marriage, how often do I find myself thinking “ I wish I could get out of this bad mood so that I could just be kind/work hard/speak up/ etc,” you can fill in the blank.

And so with this relationship between feelings and actions in mind, we often feel trapped. We certainly want to do good, to excell, to work hard, to grow, to be kind, to make sacrifices, but we lack the feeling. Without feeling hard-working, how can we expect to work hard? Without feeling sacrificial, how am I to make sacrifices? Without feeling kind, warm, and loving, how am I to act kind, warm, and loving? And so we seek the feeling in hopes that we may unlock the ability to act.

However, to again take love as the example, where do feeling and action really fit in to love? At its core, love is primarily the action. Regardless of how readily it is identified and associated with loving feelings, at its core, love is the action. Love is the action of willing the good of the other. Through one’s own will, the good of the other is strove for.

Oftentimes, willing is indeed accompanied by good feelings, but at its core is the action. The act of love is also much more important for our consideration because it is the part we can control. We can’t cause ourselves to “feel” a certain way. Feelings and emotions are not a muscle that we can flex. Our will, however, is.

We can take this further though. It is not simply the case that feelings have been focused on and actions ignored. As I said before, the two have been flip-flopped and their relationship reversed.

We see feelings and emotions as the cause or catalyst of our actions. Not only is this not true ( we are the cause of our actions) but it is actually the opposite.

What we discover is that when we actively begin to love, the feelings of love are cultivated. Conversely, often when we are feeling selfish or unkind, it is because at some level of our being we are acting selfish or unkind.

Our hearts are like horses (bear with me). Plato once used the metaphor of a chariot to illustrate the soul, and in the metaphor the feeling/emotive/passionate parts of the soul were represented by the horses, while the will was represented by the charioteer.

Horses and hearts are both fickle – the look around, they wander, they stop to eat the dandelions. Sometimes they are looking in the same direction you are, and then it seems that getting there is very easy. But it becomes very hard when I want to get from point A to point B, when there is so much delicious grass at point A.

I do not want to belabor the horse metaphor, but I may be forced to because of how well it works out.

The horse, like the heart, needs to be trained. When the horse is distracted and untrained, its very hard for the rider to get anywhere quickly. However, when the horse is trained and the two begin to work together in unison, what is the result? There is something truly glorious, even epic and poetic about the harmony between a rider and his horse – they work together, the ride in unison, the ride as one unit, the fly with the wind.

When the heart is distracted and untrained, the will has to push hard to perform acts of love and sacrifice. However, when the will pushes through anyway, what happens? The heart begins to follow. Real passion only comes through work. It comes out in the things we have strove for, fought for, disciplined ourselves for, sacrificed for.

All this has been a little rambling, I know. But seriously though, how often do we find ourselves trapped in the modern reversal of feeling and action? How often do we feel trapped by our emotions? Our emotions of sadness, depression, grumpiness, anxiety, and the list goes on. These have become greater and greater problems for citizens of the modern world because they are told, however subtly, that emotion precedes action. One can’t love, if one doesn’t feel “in love”. With this in mind, bad emotions become an imaginary cage that people are convinced is inescapable.

But if one always waits to “feel right” before “acting right”, it will be as a rider who lets the horse lead him. Sure, he may go the right way some of the time – but much of the time he won’t get anywhere at all.

For a few weeks my daily personal challenge has been to reflect on “action” every time I am “feeling bad”. What I have discovered is that whenever I am feeling grumpy, it is usually because I have been acting lazy, selfish, and inward. The days it is hardest to focus on work, are the days where in my mind I have been procrastinating, stalling, or otherwise slacking off.

And of course, there are certainly times when bad emotions seem to pop out of nowhere, if I muster the will to act rightly in spite of these emotions, do you know what happens? Horse and rider become one, once again.

Ok, now I’m really done. Thanks for reading,

In Christ,

JM

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