We love to think of ourselves as creatures of logic.
We pride ourselves on the ability to consider the nuances of an issue, to look at it from all sides, list the pros and cons of each option and make a decision based on rational analysis. Think it through, we tell ourselves when we face a complicated problem. I can do this.
We sit down and start logically working our way through the problem. We consider each possibility, rationally categorize each outcome by the benefits it offers us. We rank them highest to lowest and pick the clear logical winner.
Then we change our mind and pick the one we really want, even if our analysis didn’t identify it as the best.
If we take the time to justify the choice to ourselves, we say our analysis was incomplete. It didn’t take into account all the factors we needed to consider, or it didn’t weight them properly. If we feel guilty about our choice, we might decide to redo our analysis with slightly different factors until it’s clear that the option we want is the best one. Then we go on our way and put our choice into effect, secure in our feeling that our logical analysis reinforced what we already knew.
Of course, the reality is that we abandoned our logical analysis when it didn’t confirm what our gut told us we wanted. We made an emotional decision, tried to back it up it with logic, then went back to it when logic couldn’t get us there.
We do this all the time, for most of the choices we make in our lives. We choose cars based on how we feel when we sit in them. We choose our kids’ schools based on how we feel when the staff speaks to us. We choose our homes based on how we feel walking through the front door. We choose our churches based on whether we feel at home in the sanctuary.
We use analysis to back these feelings up. But at the end of the day, it’s our hearts and guts that make the decision more than our minds. And the funny thing is that when we go against our gut, when we let the logical analysis alone make the decision, we often end up regretting it down the road.
Because we are creatures of emotion much more than of logic. And emotions are messy, scary, hard to predict, impossible to control. They can help us, and they can trick us.
The people who sell to us know this better than we do. Magazines that contain great logical information with medical studies and diets and proven workout plans inside draw us in with photos of ripped bodies and promises of better sex. Ads for cars show the cars doing just about everything except commuting to and from work. Movie trailers make us feel excited, frightened, sympathetic to the people in them. Political candidates try to simultaneously make us proud of our heritage and scared of threats to it, whether the threats are real or imagined (or real but completely overblown).
We can’t ignore our capacity for logic. It’s one of our great human advantages, one of the tools that has allowed us to master our world. But focusing on logic to the exclusion of emotion denies a huge part of our messy, scary, unpredictable, often irrational humanity.
Let’s recognize both sides of ourselves. Let’s have the courage to embrace our emotions–and the courage to develop our logic for those moments our emotions try to trick us.