Other People’s Rhetoric

Let’s revisit Deborah Cameron’s article yet again, because judging by the comments on my comments, I didn’t make myself clear. Or perhaps I did and people disagree anyway, or perhaps I’m just dead wrong. But I want to try to clarify one or two points all the same. The disagreement is with what I said about the different value we place (the culture we live in places) on thoughts and feelings. I do think that difference exists, I do think there is a seldom-examined or -questioned assumption that feelings are good, authentic, spontaneous, real, honest, natural, and for all those reasons and perhaps more, better than thoughts. Some readers point out that the distinction between thoughts and feelings is not clear-cut – and I agree with that, I realize it’s not. But I’m talking about the rhetoric rather than the reality. It seems to me it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this particular discussion whether it makes sense to separate and oppose thoughts and feelings, because the point is that that’s what the rhetoric does, that’s what the culture does, that’s what other people do. Tell them to stop opposing feelings and thoughts, heart and head; don’t bother telling me, I already know.

For example, a quotation in Cameron’s book Good to Talk?, from ‘Circle Time’, a bit of advice on ‘teaching interpersonal and communication skills that is used in some British schools’:

Within the circle children are encouraged to talk about their feelings and about problems that may have arisen at school…

Pure boilerplate, of course, and that’s my point. People are always encouraged to talk about feelings, full stop, not about feelings and thoughts. Now, granted, and here is where we probably just have to agree to differ, if I do have to choose one to talk about and say is better than the other, I will choose thoughts. I do think that when the two are separated there is an entrenched cultural habit (blame D.H. Lawrence, if you like) to say and believe that feelings are better, and I would reverse that if I could. But even leaving that aside, even without that disagreement, I still think there is room to notice and ponder and question the complete omission of thoughts. I think that is part of the subtext of Cameron’s article, and I think it’s worth making supertext, that is to say, explicit.

Here is part of that quotation from the article again:

The main premise of the ‘Mars and Venus’ literature is exactly the one restated by BT—that men are far less at ease than women with self-revelation and the verbalizing of emotional states.

Again. There is a whole set of implicit assumptions there. That self-revelation equates to verbalizing emotional states and not cognitive ones. Yes, the two bleed into each other and overlap, of course they do, but then why is emotional the only word used there? If both are involved, why are both not mentioned?

Oh dear, I ought to write a book myself, no doubt, but it would be such an effort.

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