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Our Struggle Between Emotion And Reason

Baby X

In the brilliant 1994 Ron Howard film The Paper, Michael Keaton plays a Metro section editor for a daily tabloid newspaper. Two black teens have been charged with a murder the police know the boys did not commit, but the newspaper is running a full page image of the teens on its front page in the next edition. Keaton is desperately racing the clock to substantiate his story that the cops know the boys are innocent but are charging them anyway for political purposes, and the paper’s front-page story will certainly ruin the teens’ lives. Glenn Close plays the paper’s managing editor and Keaton’s superior, who is much more invested in winning a fight with Keaton than she is in printing the truth. Close literally (and comically) engages Keaton in a fistfight to prevent Keaton from stopping the press run as her emotion completely dominates her obvious intellect as she blathers on about Keaton and the boys never including her in their socializing and complaints about her being underpaid. These are her actual motives for opposing Keaton, and she is wholly indifferent to the fate of two innocent teens. Likewise, Keaton’s wife, played by Marissa Tomei, is far more invested in Keaton being at a long-planned dinner with her parents. She could care less that these boys’ lives will be ruined by the false reporting as she rages at Keaton, completely lost in her emotion, to sit down and eat.

This phenomena is hardly exclusive to women. I know lots of emotionally ridiculous men as well; men who will stubbornly refuse—ever—to admit they were wrong or that they did not know something, not realizing that very refusal makes them look both foolish and childish. Yet this has been my consistent experience with women: grown, educated, thoughtful, intelligent women melting down to four-year olds over, well, you name it: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, anniversaries, or simply becoming anger locked because they want and need to win the fight even when they know, for an absolute certainty, that they are wrong or that they are being illogical. The argument isn’t really about Michael Keaton working late, it’s about Marissa Tomei’s fears that her relevance is vanishing or Glenn Close’s resentment over not being accepted by Keaton’s circle of friends. This misses the point that Close’s character was more likely excluded not because she was a woman but because she was their boss, and a rather demanding, snooty one at that. That part of the puzzle completely escapes Close’s character, as it does most of us—men or women—when we’re flying off the rails: the missing puzzle piece that explains whatever our real issue is.

My wife did not speak to me for nearly a week because of an argument over where our baby would go when we left the hospital. She insisted upon taking the baby to her mother’s house, which was a family tradition. I’d already been trained and experienced in handling babies and saw no need to move to Queens for x-months and sleep on a cot in her father’s den in order to be taught something I already knew how to do. And, there was no baby. She was not pregnant. It was a purely hypothetical discussion that ballooned into a completely ridiculous argument. And the fight really wasn’t about our imaginary baby: it was about her feeling that she wasn’t being heard or that her values did not matter to me or that I was making all of the decisions for our family and even something as fundamental as caring for a newborn would be dictated to her by her know-it-all husband. But I wasn't a know it all. I was a fifteen -year old boy who was routinely abandoned in a 1-room basement apartment with a newborn while my mother was at work and my sister ran the streets. I got up at 2 a.m. to feed her, I bathed her and sang to her and rocked her to sleep, I changed a million diapers. I did not need training from my mother-in-law to handle my own child. But all my wife saw was her husband--a man--constantly correcting her and telling her what to do, now even with her own baby. So this educated, thoughtful college instructor simply melted down into this irrational child. I was no better: I should have realized the fight wasn’t really about Baby X and calmly tried to turn our discussion toward what was really bothering her. Instead, we became The Bickersons.

Using Emotion For Fuel:: Steinfeld's Mattie in True Grit..

Emotional Fuel

Is it nurture or nature that compels women to behave like children? Demanding attention, impatient, myopic, placing emotion ahead of logic. There are, of course, exceptions. What was so remarkable about the recent film True Grit was how different The Girl was. In an Oscar® —worthy performance, Hailee Steinfeld’s 14-ish Mattie Ross is sublimely disciplined about avenging her father’s murder to the point where she subjugates all other considerations in her young life. Ross is far from robotic, having all the emotion and verve of a very young person whose life had been torn from her but using her emotion as fuel for her mission rather than as an impediment to it. It is an amazing performance and a great film, flawed only by the artifice of a complete absence of sexual tension.

This is a young girl, presumably now an orphan, out in the middle of nowhere, pursuing hardened killers with only the drunk, broken-down Jeff Bridges to guide and protect her. Yet there is not one inference, by good guys or bad, of even a hint of one of the ruffians in this male-dominated flick considering, even for a moment, taking advantage of her. Sexual tension, like the reality of horses defecating at will, seemed to have been excised from the film perhaps to focus more on how remarkably different this character was. But it is the very absence of any hint of sexuality that undermines both her performance and the film itself as I felt manipulated, the film moving out of bounds with reality. I mean, at the very least, at some point, somebody would have whistled at her. In stark reality, once she’d been captured (as she is in the film), the girls’ possible rape would have been a source of high tension. But nobody, good guys or bad, even considers it as a possibility. [Minor spoiler for the film] The film’s ending finds Mattie, many years later, still unmarried. As an adult, Mattie’s disciplined subjugation of her emotion comes across as an unappealing frigidity. This is not what God wants, either: men and women to be so disciplined that they lack spirit and verve. I believe God wants balance. Jesus died to set us free. We should be free from sin, from addictions and habits. We should not be a slave, in bondage to our emotions.

Half the battle between our emotion and our intellect is keeping our mouth shut. [James 3] We are halfway home if we just master the art of silence. Most sisters I know immediately blurt out every unexpressed thought that enters their head, the way children do. Most hold absolutely nothing in reserve. They’re running their mouths day and night. On the phone all day, in the car, texting, chatting, yabba-jabba yak-yak ad nauseam. This speaks of loneliness which, to me, is like a weak muscle group. Loneliness speaks to me of a poor spiritual life. That you can’t be content or comfortable with yourself, with the sound of your own voice. That there is absolutely no quiet time in your life suggests there aren’t spaces where you listen to or seek to hear from God. It’s all you. Yak-yak-yak. Everybody knows your business. Everybody knows what you think about everything and everyone. There is no mystery, no room for thoughtful evaluation of you as a person. You are easily dismissed because you’re not a thoughtful person, not a good listener. You don’t process information but rebound off of trivialities. There is no depth, no “there” there.

We are creatures endowed with the qualities of our Maker, divinely blessed to experience emotion over a wide range. But we are, nonetheless, charged to not allow emotion to rule us. [Proverbs 16:32, 25:28, ] This is the argument for Christian sobriety, why we should not drink or smoke dope or what have you. We are charged to be emotional and compassionate people, but to be disciplined. To subjugate our emotion to our intellect. To allow compassion to influence our choices but to make those choices prayerfully, soberly and with deliberation and focus.

It has been the rare woman I have met who engages her intellect on par with her emotion: who makes a fair fight of it. Most women I have known, including highly educated women, can be derailed from efficient pursuit of their goals by rushes of emotion: love, anger, disappointment, elation. It is, chiefly, why I am suspicious of female preachers and especially female pastors. I question their motives, their resolve and their longevity. I wonder if their decisions are products of their emotion, and how long they can run from the monster without falling down.

On Defense:: Hacking through the tangle of weeds inside her head: I Am Not Your Enemy..

Count To Ten

Most women I deal with have a strong defensive posture that borders on irrationality. Nobody is always right, nobody is always wrong. If you are in a personal or professional relationship in which you are always one or the other, that is a dysfunctional relationship. Run for the nearest exit. Before picking up the phone to speak to one of these sisters, I have to pause to deactivate my emotion chip. I am everything I accuse these women of being and much more. I can be defensive and quick-tempered and just as irrational as the next guy (or gal). But I have learned that two people bouncing off the walls accomplishes nothing. So I just turn it off. Take a deep breath. Pray. Dial the phone.

Communicating with sisters, particularly church sisters, is, for me, an incredible chore because I have to use my machete to hack my way through the tangle of weeds inside these women’s head to get past their emotional sandtraps to the matter at hand. Simple, clean communication is rare, as an assessment of fault must first be entered into the record by this sister before we can move on.

I used to train my assistants about arguing with a monkey. Now, I am not calling every person or especially every woman a monkey, but I mean many of us waste far too much time reasoning with people who refuse to be rational. Rationality is a kind of meeting of the minds, see you in the middle. Attempting to reason with a primate who has little or no emotional control, who thinks urinating on or hurling feces at you is funny, is a complete waste of time. We—men and women—have to make an assessment of the persons we are attempting to communicate with, of their ability to hear us and what language we need to speak. Failing to do that, treating all persons in a one-size-fits-all approach, is ignorance on our part. Demanding others meet our subjective standard for reason, rationality and maturity is sheer arrogance.

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Men treat women like children because, to one extent or another, many women behave like children. And, having been so treated, many women grow emotional calluses which cause them to receive any and all data from a male as condescending, even when it is not. But this is the sum of our sister’s experience, the emotional luggage she carries with her. She is not mean or weak or hateful: she’s a survivor. This is important to consider before you pick up the phone: take a moment to see God about who this person is, about what her larger story is. Sacrifice your own rightness and your own impulse to get all frothy. Let it go.