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Monday, November 12, 2012

A Little More About This Emotion Thing

[note: slightly edited from first posting]
Here is another way of looking at the importance of getting one’s emotions under control (see the post below) before you try to do your work or engage in any sort of interaction with others.

Malcom Gladwell has written an interesting book called Blink, that explains the way we are able to make subconscious, intuitive judgements about things and people in the blink of an eye.  This capability is critical to everyone, from the teacher evaluating a student in class, to the customer and the salesman bargaining for a car at the dealership, to the appraiser evaluating a piece of art as genuine or a forgery, to the policeman or soldier figuring out whether or not to fire a weapon at an individual suddenly running toward or away from him. 

Gladwell makes the case that we do this sort of instant, subconscious observation of minute details in peoples’ facial expression, vocal tone, or body language, and we look at all sorts of other clues that the five senses provides us all the time, and we are by and large good at it.  He also makes two other points that are huge:

1) the more training you have in the particular work in question, the better the intuitive “blink”evaluations will be.   As a car dealer, you can better evaluate who is likely to buy and who is not when the person walks in the door; as an art appraiser, the more genuine art or artifacts you see, the better you can evaluate a new item; and the more experienced policemen are the ones more likely to hold fire and not react precipitously in a suspicious situation.

2) Except sometimes experience does not give any advantage at all.  It turns out that when ignorance and stereotyping exists, or fear or anger, or greed, or some other negativity enters the mind of the individual, the ability to use experience to evaluate and correctly respond to the situation in the moment is reduced.  Decidedly.  And at an instinctual level--in that "blink" moment. Because the mind is clouded by what we yogis see as the kleśas, clues that might ordinarily be clear to us are overlooked.  The mind reflects our klesas more than it does reality.  And bad decisions result.  Sometimes very bad.  Cornell West, Harvard professor, is arrested trying to enter his own house.  Amadou Diallo is shot 42 times in his own vestibule in New York, trying to get away from the policemen he thought were going to harm him.  The Getty Museum bought a forgery of a Greek statue for $10 million.  

Tell me you have not made some probably less newsworthy but still bad decision under the influence of ignorance, ambition, greed, hatred, or fear. 

This is not to say that these negative emotions have no useful purpose.  There are genuine reasons why anger and desire and fear arise, and those who do not acknowledge their arousal, or who never even feel them, might be missing parts of their neural circuitry, and are certainly suppressing or outright missing huge clues about themselves and the world around them.    But they are not helpful in seeing the deep truth of a person or situation, or in the development of yogic wisdom.

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