You can tell by how they use the words.
Oh, you could look a little deeper – at their social profiles, or their blogs, or which newspapers they read – but you usually don’t need to. The words are enough. The ones they choose, and the tone that surrounds them. You can always tell.
There’s always a moment of disbelief for me. I assume I’ve misread, and I go back and try again. I begin the paragraph anew, this time more carefully, attempting to reconcile the words with my own worldview. But I fail. There’s no connection between there and here.
Mostly, it’s the adjectives that give them away. The ones they spit out in disdain.
Liberal is one. It’s probably the one that confused me the most. Take a moment to read the word’s definitions, and then try to make sense of how it can be used as an insult. And yet it is.
So is feminist, as both adjective and noun. Do they just not understand what it means? Has some mis-wiring of the mind mixed it up with matriarchy, or misandry? Is it all just a mistake in good faith?
But it’s not a mistake. It’s a difference, where some people would think differences couldn’t exist.
One of the strands of my journey through life so far has been about discovering how my own views relate to those of other people. I began by emulating others before I knew that I could have opinions of my own. Then I justified my inherited beliefs with tortured rationalisation. Then I formed my own views, shining brilliantly in their oversimplification and impracticality, and dismissed anything else. Then I found myself increasingly in the company of likeminded people, and quietly stopped believing in the existence of dissenting opinions.
It’s a normal journey; it’s the normal journey. For many people, that’s the last stop, where they alight from the train and thereafter remain. I can see the attraction. But for me, it wasn’t to be.
I’m faced with the uncomfortable truth that others’ universes are different from mine, and that they no doubt see their own edges and corners and principles as immutable and incontrovertible – just like my entirely different ones. That’s a tough realisation. How do we navigate a world that looks so different to other people? How will we even know when we encounter someone like that?
Well, for one thing, you can tell by how they use the words.
There’s one above all that makes my horizon tilt; it makes my mind stumble. It’s used as a mark of invalidity – a justification for dismissal. It’s used to paint a position or a person with frivolity, naivety, and mistrust. It’s of course usually levelled at women, but it’s also a potent accusation against men.
Not duly considering facts. Irrational. Impulsive. Volatile. Melodramatic. Weak. Impaired. Untrustworthy. Embarrassing.
Those are the real words behind the word. Those are the message, and the judgement. My horizon tilts, and I reach out a hand to steady myself, because I can’t understand. I can’t comprehend why you’d ever interpret the word that way, when it ought to be a badge of honour instead.
I can barely look at this planet – at these lives of ours – for even a few moments without seeing how important it is that we feel. We must. We need to feel deeply.
Feeling is… us. It’s where we live.
It’s what makes us human, and it’s what lets us survive in this imperfect world we’ve built, that brings us tragedy and tension and uncertainty every day. Where there’s something wrong – and there is a great deal that’s wrong – feeling is what’s missing.
It’s the fuel of empathy, and sympathy, and creativity. It’s how we can want, and lament the lack of. It’s how we can aspire and hope. Those facets of our experience cannot exist in isolation from our emotions. We’re framed entirely by them. We are beings of emotion.
It’s what lets us love, and miss, and lament. Only by our capability to mourn can we endeavour to protect. Only by understanding the feelings of others can we treat them with dignity and kindness. And only by their kindness in turn can we find solace when we need it. That’s the deeper truth of the yin and yang of feeling. In despair, there inherently exists the potential for joy.
When we make decisions of human consequence in the absence of emotion, inhuman outcomes result.
Emotion is our balance. It’s our radar, and our moderator. It’s our curse and our gift. It’s the core of conscience, and consequence, and the fear of regret. It’s the thread of magic in us, colouring the world and giving us access to a perception from beyond the mundane sphere of our lives. It is insight, reward, and caution all at once. It’s us.
The lack of emotion is the disorder. The perception of weakness is a weakness in itself.
Yet they use the word with disdain. To castigate, when we should be celebrating whenever the green shoots of our essential humanity manage to poke through this bleak concrete of dispassionate decorum and so-called seriousness.
To feel and show emotions is to be human, in the most important way: it’s to be small, and personal, and bound to ourselves and others. What an awful thing it is to be discouraged from feeling, and from showing that we do. What a misguided position.
We are not beings of calm heart.
This world we’ve made is not quiet, or acceptable, or satisfying. Your life is for laughter and tears; shouts and screams. There’s so little time, and none to waste on being unmoved.
Whatever else you may do, you must always feel.