The Mystery of the Emotions
One of the puzzles of human ‘being’ is the uncontrollability of the emotions. The idea that the brain can just ‘will’ or ‘turn on or off’ the emotions is one of the delusions of the behaviourist/cognitivist construct. Why is it that some people have less fear than others? Why are some people less risk averse than others? Why do some people get uncontrollably angry? Why can’t humans just ‘self-regulate’ their emotions? Why do we cry when sad? Go to a funeral sometime and count the number of people wearing sunglasses.
You may hear some of these statements about the place that demonstrate the problem: ‘just wake up to yourself’, ‘stop crying’, ‘get a hold of yourself’, ‘don’t be anxious’, ‘you hurt my feelings’ and ‘stop being depressed’.
An emotion consists of an unconscious evaluation of a situation. Emotions move towards or away from something. This is why we call it an ‘e-motion’ and all learning is about movement. Our emotions direct learning. Emotions reveal the orientation of our unconscious, which of course cannot be controlled by will or some crazy neurological algorithm. The behaviourist nonsense now parading about Safety as neuroscience (https://safetyrisk.net/behaviourist-neuroscience-as-safety/) completely distorts the way in which embodied humans respond to ‘being-in-the-world’. Without emotions the world would be without meaning. Nothing would attract or repel us to act. All enactment is the result of an emotional movement. Without e-motion, there would be no living. Emotions could be better called ‘bodily affectivity’.
Our emotions are present at birth, well before the development of language or cognitive rationality. Babies ‘resonate’ with their mother’s smile and mother’s ‘resonate’ back. All humans ‘resonate’ with other humans through many gestures and expressions that take the form of semiotic language. We call this ‘inter-affectivity’. That is, we are all ‘affected’ by others because we are social beings. This complex process is the foundation of all empathy and understanding. The behaviourist idea that people can be ‘objective’ and disconnected from social context is nonsense.
Most emotions precede brain representation. That is, that decision making is made by the brain as computer that has to receive data, process it and give it representation before making a decision. Usually an emotion bursts in on the scene before one realizes (assesses and analyses) what’s going on. Emotions are not just ‘individual’ states within a person but are more often a ‘shared’ state in inter-bodily ‘affection’. That is, try as you might to will indifference, you will be affected emotionally by the emotions of others about you. This is why emotions are not controllable by individual ‘will’.
The idea of ‘will power’ is a delusion of cognitivism. Of course in Mental Health, depression is a loss of inter-affectivity. People with depression become ‘disconnected’ with the world and themselves, sometimes losing e-motion as ‘connection’ with others. Just as depression and anxiety are social constructs, so too is resilience (https://safetyrisk.net/the-social-construction-of-mental-health/ ). The individualist/cognitivist construct of ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ doesn’t work. Similarly, one can’t just suppress an emotion through will power. Humans need supportive communities to escape from most human challenges including: addiction, mental health issues, fundamentalisms, loneliness and racism. And you won’t find ‘community’ through social media’. (Gabrielle Carlton’s work at Resilyence is based on this principle https://resilyence.com/ )
When things go well and someone is euphoric, the group becomes euphoric. When a cloud of depression comes over a few leaders and things unravel I’ve witnessed a whole organization drift into depression. Even as we witness the many defense mechanisms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defence_mechanisms ) people exhibit unconsciously and daily we realize that many of the things we blame people for are not conscious. You will even hear the unconscious speak today when someone says: ‘you’re being defensive’, ‘no I’m not is the reply’.
What are the implications of this for safety?
1. We need to move away from individualist/behaviourist constructs that devalue the importance of the ‘social’ and ‘communal’ structures that provide identity, belonging and support. Unless the challenges of mental health are tackled through a asocial lens it is not likely that much will improve.
2. We need to drop the behaviourist nonsense that supposes disconnectedness as a good thing and start reshaping what we do through the lens of ‘being-together-in-the-world’. Eg. most incident investigations set up this notion of disconnectedness as beneficial making it impossible to ‘help’ in grave situations through pastoral care.
3. It would be helpful if safety people could step outside of the closed focus of the industry and step into a more transdisciplinary approach to understanding risk. I have no idea why we keep turning to regulators for vision in safety when their purpose mitigates against it.
4. Drop the safety slogan ‘safety starts with you’ and make it ‘safety starts with us’. Whilst you are at it, dump ‘safety is a choice you make’ and ‘all accidents are preventable’ or any other sloganistic rubbish that divides community.
5. Embrace an embodied sense of emotions and what constitutes ‘in-group’ and ‘out-groupness’. We need not be ‘afraid’ of emotions but rather need to understand the nature of the human unconscious much more.
6. Better understand social influence and how much of what we do is influenced by social dynamics (https://safetyrisk.net/mapping-social-influence-strategies/ ).
7. Start to investigate how things like: aesthetics, design, ‘somatic markers’, semiotics, place and space trigger emotions and uncontrolled decisions.
8. Make better use of expressions and gestures in the way we tackle risk.
9. Think more of the brain as a mediating organ and focus more on how the human ‘mind’ constructs ‘being-in-the-world’. This means dumping the mechanistic ideas and language in safety that suggest people can be controlled through behaviourism.
10. Start to give greater significance to connecting with the emotions of a group rather than thinking that safety is some kind of cognitive decision.