Our business is not feeling

“Regardless of whether or not it’s true, it’s none of your business so you shouldn’t feel anything about it.” The battle cry of our generation.

The other day I witnessed a couple dining at a table together. They seemed to be happy with one another, toasting with their cocktails and smiling. But something was off. As soon as the toast was over, the man took out his phone and stared deeply into it, scrolling through pictures or perhaps articles, I knew not, while the lady looked lovingly upon him. He didn’t really seem to want to be there. She occasionally distracted him from his searchings by saying something, and each time he looked up, smiling for a few moments, before returning to his phone. Occasionally he looked around the room. Not the least bit dismayed (or so it appeared), the woman, after a time, checked her own phone, and to my surprise her background image showed a completely different man’s face. It was the kind of picture I have on my own phone: of my boyfriend, smiling at me.

Now, let’s not jump to conclusions. It might have been a picture of her brother, or, instead it might have been her brother or very good friend sitting across the table. There might not have been anything sinister going on at all. However, I (my mistake), once I was fully removed from the couple later, mused out loud my own suspicions about the possibilities as well as my wonderings as to how I ought to feel about it. The response was the quote that I wrote at the beginning of this post. “It’s none of your business so you shouldn’t feel anything about it.” So… if it had been something sinister, I was told that I ought not emotionally react.

Allow me to step back for a moment. You may wonder why I talked myself through figuring out what my reaction should be. Don’t we all process that way? Maybe we don’t. Some people have immediate emotional reactions to outside stimulus or observations. I have a very clinical approach to things–and that system developed over time in order to compensate for a prior tendency to let my emotions master me. Now, after years of practice, I tend to break down the facts, apart from mere observation which can lead to inaccurate conclusions, and then proceed with caution from there. If there are multiple options available, I try to deem which one is the most appropriate. And, yes, I talk myself through it, or invite others to contribute their thoughts.

Thus far I had not yet truly experienced an emotion about the situation of any kind. It was not even proven to be any sort of crime that I had witnessed. But I pondered, what if it was an instance of infidelity? Then how would I feel? I would, of course, not expose those inner workings to that pair in any way shape or form, because I have learned decorum and I try to believe the best of others until they prove me wrong.

But the reaction that I had from the person who told me I ought not have feelings about it completely threw me for a loop. That person responded immediately to me, with a rather aggressive tone that was almost threatening. It was an instruction, not a suggestion. It would be more appropriate to translate what she said into, “you are not allowed to have an emotional reaction to events that you aren’t directly involved in.”

And yet, I do. The idea of infidelity, of hurting someone you’ve chosen to love, sickens me. So do the mere thoughts of abuse of humans (or animals) in any way shape or form. Yet, most occurrences (I’m very thankful for this) of harm to people are entirely separate from my own life.

According to the statement above, I don’t have the right to feel negative emotions about instances of what I believe to be abuse–be it psychological or emotional or physical. The conflicts that are forcing families out of their homes overseas: don’t feel anything about them. The man a few houses down who beats his dog: not your business. The kid who is being bullied at school: not your friend? Don’t feel anything for him.

It’s the logical conclusion. If it doesn’t directly affect you, let it happen and don’t give it another thought. And that’s a very dangerous road that we have gone down in our society. We hole up behind our computers and watch other people’s lives change and move as the earth spins, and then we turn off Facebook and none of what we read about matters. Because it’s not our business. Because it’s not in our own home.

But if we study the history of mankind, many of the major abuses that were prevented or stopped outright were fought by men and women who “merely felt” that things were wrong. Many of them had not experienced those abuses themselves–but they had witnessed them. And they decided that those actions were objectively wrong.

You may be thinking that I’m jumping too far ahead–but the point of this piece is not that the couple in front of me might have been committing adultery (or “having an affair” or “cheating” to make it sound somewhat less harmful). The point is that I was told that I couldn’t feel anything about it, and that it wasn’t my business. 

True: the private practices of men and women in romantic relationships are none of my business, absolutely. I agree. I wouldn’t presume ever to interfere–especially having glanced at them once or twice. If I was a lawyer putting together a case against them, the whole case would be thrown out and I’d lose my license. That isn’t the point.

Instead my point is this: ladies and gentlemen, the well-being of humanity is always our business, and we ALWAYS have the right to feel something about it. It is our duty, I would say, to feel angry or sad or disgusted by evil. The very thought of harming another person ought to give us nausea. It is, objectively, wrong. We ought to feel bad and become penitent when we have harmed another.

But “ought-ness” has left our thinking. In our postmodern society, nothing “ought to be” done or felt or analyzed. Because “ought-ness” suggests a higher truth, and a constant, unchanging understanding of good and bad. With lack of logical thinking and the embracing of relativism, hypocrisy inevitably follows.

Today our young people say, “nobody can tell me what is right or wrong.” “Nobody can tell me what I ought to do.” But they then push that forward and try to convince others of their same worldview. Or more than convince, inform others that their worldview is correct and furthermore OUGHT TO BE practiced. Which is why I was told that I shouldn’t feel anything.

I could keep going but I will conclude with this: I disagree with the statement above greatly in part. Firstly, I agree that the whole situation was “none of my business” and that I ought not interfere. Not with the scant evidence I had in front of me. But secondly, I wholeheartedly object to being informed that I don’t have the right to emotionally react to what I am witnessing. Such is a right of being human, and that right cannot be taken away. I furthermore would have to say that it is a healthy reaction to dislike wrongdoing and to have the desire to prevent it–though one in maturity ought to be able to control and master any desire that would invade someone else’s activities unless he or she (the observer) is specifically asked to help, or the other person is obviously in desperate need and is unable to ask for help.

Indeed, having no feelings of compassion for other humans (or animals) being harmed or injured is a sign of what is still categorized as a mental disorder, called sociopathy or psychopathy. Now I don’t believe for one second that the “it’s none of my business so I won’t get involved” philosophy is anything near sociopathy (since most sociopaths don’t  choose not to react–rather they are incapable of “normal” human reaction), but the desire to not have any emotional reaction, or the active choice to suppress those emotions in order to legitimize inaction, I believe is objectively wrong. Furthermore, informing others that they ought to not have emotional attachments to humanity at large, to stifle the desire to defend,  will lay a foundation for a world of bystanders who step aside while villains gain power and continue to repeat the savage evils that we have already witnessed a hundred times over throughout the course of human history.

So the balance has been set, and the scales teeter from one side to another. Which way will we choose to go? Can we maintain the level head of both logic and emotion? For logic without compassion is robotic computation, while emotion without logical thought is animal instinct. We must incorporate both.

And, as always, love must be at the core of it.