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  • Writer's pictureKhawla Shehadeh

Are Emotions Taboo?

What does an Englishman say when he is really furious? He says, "I am going to write a letter!".

A Dutch businessman thought he had a nice meeting with a management in Japan, until he walked out with the translator and the translator whispered excitedly: "Did you see how angry they were? The businessman was startled, for he had not noticed anything.

That while native Dutch people who come to Southern Europe or the Middle East are quick to think there is an argument between people when it is usually an innocent animated conversation.

A bit stereotypical perhaps, but it is entertaining to see how people in different cultures express their emotions differently. Could it be "nature" and be in the DNA or "nurture," learned behavior through upbringing? When I came to the Netherlands from Palestine/Israel when I was eleven, I not only had a nice tan from the sun but also the necessary temperament. My anger regularly involved raising my voice, cursing, throwing doors, running away, being unreasonable, etc. I could admire others in Holland for their self-control. They could stay so calm, articulate their feelings well and even have a constructive conversation to reach solutions. I could not do that so well. That required my Prefrontal Cortex to reboot considerably first, but by then we were often a few cups of tea away.

Emotions are very human and in my opinion there is no right or wrong. We need them and seek them out with tantalizing dramatic movies, moving art, compelling music, overwhelming soccer games. Emotions give color to life. They are an inspiration in all forms of art and are a binding agent in human relationships.

Many important and trivial decisions are made based on emotion and feeling. Take the choice of a partner or a new employee, the country or house you want to live in, what you want to wear today, eat, watch on TV, the music you choose for the moment. You do all this by feeling. There will certainly be rational considerations, but the deciding factor is feeling. The mood we are in when we make a decision or judgment even determines the outcome. Although we don't always want to assume that. An experiment with teachers showed that [are you coming from the newsletter? read on from here...] in a positive mood, teachers on average gave 1 grade higher when grading the same school assignment of a student than when they were in a negative mood. This was even though 87% of teachers denied beforehand that their mood would affect their grading.

In professional life, emotion often seems to be a taboo subject. "You have to stay professional" is something like "you have to get over your emotions" or "you have to suppress your emotion." But passion and drive are also emotions. We would like to believe that we can turn off emotions but that is an illusion. Feelings and emotions play a much larger role in life and in our functioning than we realize. Intelligence (IQ) often gets the credit for high grades in school and functioning well at work, but just as important for success in life is emotional intelligence (EQ).

If you neglect emotions they can even lead to long-term symptoms: depression, burnout and (unexplained) physical complaints. Emotional hygiene through meditation, self-connection, good conversation, exercise, but also through thoughts of gratitude, expressions of love or laughing together you can regularly discharge negative emotions and build healthy resistance and resilience.

Whatever we are feeling, we need never be ashamed of our emotions or judgmental about them. Emotions are merely signals of underlying human needs. Take jealousy, for example. You may have all kinds of judgments about your feeling of jealousy, for example at your colleague's promotion, your best friend's new house, but if you look at it more closely, what does this jealousy want to say to you? It is nothing but an expression of a wish, a deep desire of yours. If you look at it this way, it has nothing to do with envy or with being childish but with an unmet wonderful need of yours that you may not have been aware of and which is allowed to be there.

As Rumi put it beautifully in his poem "The Inn": "A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor...Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.". Our emotions are guides that point out what serves us and what does not.

Translated with (free version)

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