Thursday, April 26, 2012

What We Can't Talk About, Will Cost Us

Photo by David Robertson via Flickr 

Rage. Anger. Envy. Terror. Fear. Grief. Sadness. Depression. Stress.

Is it normal to:
  • Feel these things? Yes.
  • Encounter them in others? Of course.
  • Discuss them openly at a staff meeting? That would be no.
  • Devote an entire workplace training curriculum to managing them? Not normally.
  • Require that students pass an emotional fitness test before graduating? Unheard of! 
How pervasive is negative emotion in American society? How costly? Look around you:
Look at how pervasive negative emotions are. Look at how costly. So I ask:
  • Why do we not, as a society, take feelings seriously?
  • Why do we not incorporate feelings - the good, the bad, and the ugly - into everyday conversation?
  • Why do we not make it safe to talk about conflicts before they mushroom into catastrophes?
Most importantly: Why do we pathologize negative emotions by turning them into something deviant, undiscussable, taboo? Not every negative feeling is a sign of a disorder, but somehow we tend to act as if it were.

More questions, unanswered:
  • Why don't we invest more time and money in preventing conflicts from exploding? 
  • Do we somehow think it is better to wait until after the fact - after the outburst, after the shooting, after the military conflict - to shake our heads and say "Isn't that terrible?"
A healthy society is composed of people with healthy minds as well as healthy bodies. And that includes the ability to talk about what's bothering us.
  • On the macro level it means institutionalizing social systems that support healthy emotional functioning: support for parents, education for young people regarding emotional health and conflict management, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to deal with problems before they become civil actions, and so on. And of course, ensuring that medical insurance covers behavioral health, with an emphasis on preventive health.
  • On the organizational level that means factoring conflict in to workplace training and human resources policies. The emotional well-being of staff is critical to their ability to be productive - heck, to show up to work in the first place!
  • On the personal level it means accepting yourself as human, and simply doing the best you can. Talking about your feelings, and trying to work with others when problems arise.
Emotions are vital to life. We ought to encourage them to bubble up and breathe, rather than stifling. They are what make us human - we just need to know how to manage them.

Good luck!