On my way home from work every day I pass a road sign that says, “Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong”. It catches my attention every time and it makes me think deeply about its meaning. At first I thought that this was someone’s attempt to justify an “anything goes” philosophy of life. But, now I think the person who posted the sign is on to something. In my life the dominant thinking regarding “feelings” can be summed up in an opposite kind of slogan, “Don’t trust your feelings”. The idea being that we must follow a set of principles or code of ethics and then live by them whether it feels good, bad, or indifferent. It sounds good, sensible, and right. And, it usually is! If we just go by your feelings it is likely that we will become an ambivalent mess, right? But, the slogan, “Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong” calls upon us to be in touch with our feelings as a barometer of what is right and wrong for us. And that’s good! If we “don’t” use our feelings to help guide us then we can succumb to personal misery and even open ourselves to becoming badly harmed physically and emotionally.
Science of the brain has shown us that emotions and deep seated feelings operate just like the physical sensation of touch. When you touch a hot iron you are going to get burned and it is going to hurt you. We teach our children to trust the sensation of touch because it exists to keep us from harm. The sensation of touch can also make us feel very good, as when we touch the soft and fluffy fur of our pet animal. The fact is, when we feel hurt emotionally it comes from the same place in the brain as the pain we feel from touching a hot iron. This is also true of our good feelings. Therefore, feelings “can” tell us whether something is good or bad for us.
I am sure that many a Catholic boy, had he trusted his feelings, might have been kept from succumbing to the seduction of a priest bent on sexual exploitation. As a Catholic child I was taught that the priest is the chief authority figure in our lives and that the priest is Christ’s representative to us on earth. So, naturally an obedient Catholic boy might not be inclined to follow his feelings of reticence and discomfort at the sexual advance of his priest. He thinks he is doing the right thing by putting his trust in the priest instead of following his feelings. This is precisely how so many children have been sexually abused in the Church, bringing upon them tremendous guilt, crippling them later in life. If it feels wrong it might really be wrong! God gave us feelings for a good reason and science has shown us a thing or two to confirm that feelings can be trusted.
I think about this slogan also with respect to everyday decision making and life choices. There are plenty of people around us who would be happy to tell us what we “ought” to do and how we “should” do things. In fact, what these well meaning people might be doing is simply imposing upon us what makes them feel good and right. We are all alike as humans, but we are all a bit different, too. What makes me feel good may not make you feel good. Don’t forget the well phrased maxim, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” So I say, Don’t dismiss your feelings when making decisions.