Withteeth and I got a second cat today. We’re going back to school soon and will be leaving our cats alone for a good portion of the day. Our first cat, Mazy, is very energetic and doesn’t like it when we leave her, so we were hoping that a second cat would make our absence more bearable. However, as far as she’s concerned, this is her territory, so she’s a bit concerned about the new cat.
Earlier today, Withteeth accidentally stepped on Mazy’s foot because she walked under him. At that time, she was intently watching our other cat, Benny. She was so focused on Benny that when the pain struck she associated it with him and struck out at him. Poor Benny didn’t know what to think.
This got me thinking: how often do we focus so hard on something that we associate everything bad with it, even when the bad is a completely separate issue? It seems to me that humans are quite good at doing this. We misassociate an effect with the wrong cause. But this isn’t really all that surprising: we have emotions and they play a large role in our lives. The best that we can hope to do is step back and look at things as rationally as possible. To try and find the right cause before we make assumptions. We can’t always do this. Sometimes we’re going to find it impossible to step back far enough. We’re always going to have our biases.
I don’t think that this is inherently a bad thing. Our emotions shouldn’t be viewed as something to be overcome, just as something that can’t always be trusted. I think that most people make the mistake of assuming that their emotions are infallible. They won’t step back and think about them critically. But there are other people who make the opposite mistake. They try to rationalize everything, and believe themselves capable of doing this very thing. They think that every conclusion that they come to is purely rational, causing them to not see their own biases and misassociations. This is as problematic as taking emotions as infallible. In the first case, one will act on emotion before they’ve really thought about the situation, which will lead to them making mistakes. In the second case, the person will act on emotion, call it rationality, and make mistakes.
So what is my point here? Acknowledge your emotions, acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, try to be rational when possible, but realize that you will react emotionally and that is not always a bad thing. Don’t punish yourself for being emotional and making mistakes. Don’t punish yourself from being human. And don’t hold others to higher standards than it is possible for them to achieve.