The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Feelings as magnets

Suzy couldn’t believe how often she had come back to the same request. She had repeatedly asked Jim to act on a task that was important to her and served the company. But Jim was struggling with his desire to decide things on his own and didn’t seem to be able to accept her authority. Suzy had become aware of a repetitive pattern in their relationship, but she regularly felt compelled to try it again and again. She was focused on her interpretation that as the team leader she had to be able to delegate him a task and that it was his duty to act on it.

There is no hesitation that formally this is how things should be happening. But looking at reality, what was happening was that Jim would agree, but never came around to do it.

By focusing on what was formally within the scope of her leadership, Suzy was preventing herself from noticing what she was experiencing. And as she didn’t pay attention to her experience, she never realized how she felt. She saw herself acting rationally. It is only once she started noticing how she felt when reacting, that she also realized how emotions were a crucial element of her reaction.

Her feelings were so uncomfortable to her, that she wished them away. But as they weren’t disappearing and constantly reappearing, she continued to feel compelled to act. The feelings acted as attention magnets. They called her to order and invited her to act in a specific manner. Anytime Jim’s behavior triggered her emotions, he came back into her focus of attention, and she tried again to change his behavior.

What this little story tells us, is how emotions serve us. They attract our attention to whatever there is we might need to act upon. However, they also are a rough kind of information, they are serving us through their speed and ability to attract our attention.

A frequent explanation is that they were needed in times of danger, for example when the saber-tooth tiger was in front of us. A different explanation remains closer to us, it is, that our ability to give attention to others when needed is a still needed skill in social life. All of us seek to receive attention and thus react to its absence, that is what Jim was doing. And he did it successfully as Suzy frequently gave him her attention.

However, one can also notice that it didn’t work as both planned it. That’s because neither of them paid attention to the emotion they were experiencing. They just let it trigger them. Had they learned to become aware of their emotions and to read them, they could have used the trigger to choose what to do.

The repetitive pattern is not only a signal that something is missing, but also information that whatever is missing will be called upon until it is found and properly reacted to.


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