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Head or Heart?

Take emotion out of it.

This is advice commonly given to encourage people to look at just the facts. Engage the logical brain and reevaluate the situation before we go flying off the handle.

It’s good advice. Sometimes.

But right now I’m going to push back against it a little. I was recently discussing a situation with my husband that had caused both of us worry and grief. In the midst of talking it out, my husband said that phrase. “Take the emotion out of it.” I did my best to look at the situation objectively, but in the midst of that I had a mini revelation.

I don’t want to take emotion out of it. Emotion is important. The idea that if I divorce my head from my heart I will magically make a better decision or behave in a better way is false. Because while I believe that examining a situation from all angles is a good thing, that can’t be the end of the process.

Take emotion out of it.

With all due respect—no.

Emotions are not a liability. Making choices because of emotion is not inherently wrong. Just like making decisions based solely on facts is not inherently right. We are human.

We are lovers and enemies. We are brothers and comrades. We are friends and teachers. We are mothers and strangers. We exist and interact in a world of emotion just as much as we exist in a world of facts. Just as we need art, we need science. Just as we need judges, we need advocates. Justice has its place; so does mercy. Knowledge is essential, but in order for knowledge to be useful, we must have the wisdom to apply it.

And when my mother-heart breaks and my mama bear instincts kick in, they should be listened to. Yes, they should be tempered, but they should not be disregarded. Sometimes the emotion of a situation must be addressed first before the facts can be examined.

My nine-year-old son recently lost his beloved pet. We’d only had this pet for a couple months. This pet was entirely replaceable. Objectively, this loss shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Objectivity didn’t matter in this case. The bare facts weren’t enough. My child was distraught and heart broken. So I joined him in his grief and as the day went on, I let him indulge in whatever emotion came his way. Sometimes that emotion was joy and silliness. He laughed and joked. Five minutes later, he would be curled up on the ground with his blanket, moaning with sadness. A couple times he just started crying and sobbed for a solid ten minutes. When a friend of his brought him a little gift of condolence, he was excited to have it and anxious to play with it.

If I had sat him down and told him all the reasons that everything was going to be fine, and he just needed to take emotion out of it…that would have been not only disrespectful, but counterproductive.

Instead I watched his roller coaster of grief for that one day, and then the next day…he was fine.

Kids are amazing that way. It never occurred to him that he should suck it up and stuff down his emotions. It didn’t cross his mind that there might be a right emotion or a wrong one. He just let himself feel. And I couldn’t help thinking, “I want to be more like that.”

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