Intellect versus emotions. Which rules?
Human beings are quite the creatures aren’t they… or more accurately… aren’t we?
That’s a loaded question though… isn’t it?
Here’s what I mean.
The human being. Part primitive emotional throw-back to a creature without language, without the ability to project into the future, without the ability to build complicated tools through higher-order reasoning.
And part advanced intellectual, sentient being, able to project into time forward and backward, with complex written and spoken language, and capable of using higher-order reasoning to leave the planet and explore lands beyond this one.
What a complex, beautiful, disorderly, intricate, elaborate, contradictory, finely honed, mess. We are capable of such horrific deeds and such beautiful accomplishments. We need only look around the world to find evidence and examples of both the heroic and the beautiful and the despicable and the ugly.
And this drama of the duality of our souls is played out in grand vistas of nations and states as well as in the individual episodes of each of our lives. It has seemed to me for a long time that the thoughts, feelings, lives, and journeys of each human being is a microcosm of the macrocosms of our families, communities, states, nations, world, solar system, galaxy, and universe.
The world of duality is the one in which we live. Perhaps the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful are not just concepts in our minds, but actually functional laws of this universe.
So where am I going with this? What the heck am I talking about?
The easiest answer is that I’m talking about life. Work life will do. We would like to think that there is a better way to run companies. We would like people in organizations to “all get along.” We wonder why people get so emotional with a tone of voice, with a look, with a person asking a question a certain way. I’ll tell you why… “because you side with your feelings.” “That’s right Johnny. You know you side with your feelings.”
One of my favorite shows on HBO has been Deadwood. Once I got past the swearing I found it to be a fascinating and incredibly well-written and well-acted series.
In one episode, Al Swearengen’s ex-girlfriend, Tricksie, shoots and wounds an important and powerful character in the series. The important and powerful character wants revenge and so orders Al to kill Tricksie. Al can’t kill his ex-girlfriend and so he orders one of his employees, Johnny, to kill his girl friend who looks like Triksie. Johnny can’t do it. Al orders Johnny knocked unconscious and tied up and then Al murders Johnny’s girlfriend. When Johnny comes too, Dan explains what has happened and Johnny is obviously upset and can’t understand why Al wouldn’t kill his ex-girlfriend, who after all, was guilty of the crime. (Remember, it’s HBO!) Dan explains that Al still has feelings for Tricksie. And then, in a southern draw, Dan explains, “You know Johnny, you side with your feelings. Al has feelings for Tricksie. You know you always side with your feelings.”
When that line was said in that episode it resonated with me like few other statements about feelings had in the past. It’s true, we side with our feelings. We like to think, especially as engineers and technical professionals, that we are as close to Mr. Spock of Star Trek as we can get. And yet we are probably as far from Spock as we could possibly be.
As engineers and technical professionals, just like everyone else, we side with our feelings. It’s the way we are wired. Sure we engineers and technical professionals camouflage it better than most. We pretend that we don’t let our feelings run the show, that we are intellectual and we reason our way through things, and yet it’s just not true. As humans we are constantly in that tug between emotion and reason. Between the lower brain and the cerebral cortex. Between our ability to feel and our ability to reason.
This then, is our lot. It is what we have been given. It is our curse and our saving grace. It gives us compassion that Spock never had and it gives us reason to question what life there might be after this.
And when we work together in our organizations, which will rule? I’ll tell you which rules. I’ve worked and continue to work with companies made up of human beings (it seems they are the only companies in town). Mostly technical professionals or people closely tied to technology. And probably more than other professions we vacillate between “reasoning” our way through challenges, problems, and questions, and “feeling” our way through everything else. We feel our way through interactions with our colleagues. If you think you are “intellectually dispassionate” when you are in a meeting think again. I deal with companies and people who, every day, wrestle with the conflict that their emotions create, not their intellect.
Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t have emotions. Nor am I saying that we should live our lives solely through our intellects. I don’t want to be Spock.
What I am saying is lets not fool ourselves. Lets be clear that unless we are in touch with our emotions, unless we understand that our emotional programs, what I call our Personal Behavioral Subroutines, can “run” our lives, we are at their mercy.
Knowing how your physiological and emotional states structure your reality and your actions within that reality is what a friend of mine, Joseph Riggio calls, “running your neurology”. He also calls the result of this, “Being Fully Human”. When you run your neurology instead of letting it run you, then you have choice. Then you can take action that is aligned with your core and with achieving your outcomes. When you learn to run your neurology, you learn how to access you “at your best”, anytime, anywhere.
I deal with people who constantly tell me that they are extremely logical and that they make their decisions through reason. And yet, when they talk to their colleagues, their words drip with condescension, with arrogance, and with attitude. All attributes that others pick up and all attributes that find their source in the emotions “running” in the person speaking.
I deal with other people who are conscious of their emotions and can do nothing about them. Their anger is palpable in their conversations with others.
And I deal with others who understand their emotions, understand their motives, and know how to access their best state. This allows them to move smoothly through a variety of situations achieving the results they want.
This is not a judgment on my part. It is an observation. It is an observation of humanity.
As engineers, if we want to become managers, leaders, and be capable of adding more than just our technical knowledge to our organizations, then we must become comfortable with both sides of our being. We must realize that we “side with our feelings” and then we can decide what to do next.
Far too many engineers, who want to be managers, think they are driven by their intellects when it’s their emotions running the ship.
There is a third choice. Not run by emotions. Not even run by intellect. But a choice to access a state where you are at your best. From this position your actions are aligned with what you want. Accessing what Joe calls your “ready state” allows you to transcend limiting emotions. It allows you to transcend limiting intellect. From this position your power, flexibility, and ability to achieve what you want are vastly increased.
There is no escaping our humanity. So we might as well make it an ally. We might as well constantly move from a position of us at our best. It can be done.