Feelings: Letting our emotions rule

I’m often intrigued by the conversations I overhear when I am having my hair cut. OK, I admit that it’s something of a guilty pleasure to read People magazine while listening to various discussions among people I don’t know, and finding out what they are concerned about and interested in.

One recent conversation really intrigued me: Several women were talking about a hot moral issue, and what a particular church denomination should do about it. The issue itself could have been one of many; it was their approach that was so telling. It centered around what they felt about this issue, what would be effective in drawing people into that church, what seemed to make sense from a practical standpoint and on it went.

Not once did I hear an appeal to any objective truth or standard. It was all about how they felt.

Now I don’t mind debating (or learning about) what that objective truth is. Or arguing about where I believe God stands on certain issues when I’m convinced he’s made that stance clear, or being told outright that I’m wrong.

Heck, I might be wrong. I can respect people who engage with me in that kind of discussion all day long. What offends me — particularly when folks are discussing what a church ought to do or ought not do — is their idea that there is no objective truth on an issue. Apparently too many people today mistakenly believe their feelings about something are relevant to the truth about a matter. For example, how often have we heard, "Well, I feel I don’t want to believe in a God who would (fill in the blank)"? Really, how could our "feelings" about God matter to who he objectively is, or is not?

To bring it down several notches from the religious realm, I’m reminded of advice from the book "Positive Discipline for Single Parents." The authors repeat the mantra that we ought to teach our kids that "feelings are always OK — they are never right or wrong."

Wow. Here the authors are talking more about our emotions than anything else. It’s part of the same syndrome that drives our feelings-driven culture — reflected in that hair-salon conversation. No wonder children are prone to letting their feelings rule them.

The notion that we should "think" about what we feel is increasingly alien to many people. For example, "Was I actually treated badly?" is irrelevant. "Do I feel I was treated badly?" is typically the only question we consider.

This is, in many ways, an age-old story. But there seems to be a greater acceptance today that whatever the issue, our guide is primarily what we "feel" in the moment. This applies to everything from a great moral and even political debate in our churches or culture to what to do about a marriage that makes us "unhappy."

Previous generations might have debated what objective truth is, who and what should be appealed to. But we’ve come a long way. Now we essentially aspire most to the title and lyrics of the 1970s Morris Alpert song, "Feelings, Wo-oh-oh Feelings."

And there are consequences to that.

I’m not suggesting a constant stiff upper lip, or acting like human computers when it comes to great moral debates. I am suggesting that, for starters, we seek an objective truth to root our moral views, feelings and emotions. When we do that, we enlarge our humanity beyond "just me" because we stake it in something so much greater.

I’m due for color soon. I can’t wait to hear what the ladies are discussing next.

(Betsy Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through hartmailbox-mycolumn(at)yahoo.com.)