I know that from personal experience, emotions are not something that can be ignored, yet neither can we allow them to have free reign in our lives.
Emotions are something we were all created with and when we pay attention to them, we become more intelligent about ourselves and others. For instance, when I am aware that my body is being flooded by the energy that anger produces within me, I know that most of the time I am not in any real danger. I just need to take a few breaths and calm down.
But when I sense a truly threatening situation, that same surge of energy in my body is exactly what I need to physically move myself out of harm’s way.
It is when we pay attention to the emotions generated by any given situation that we can determine what it is we need to do next. Understanding what is going on inside of us helps us to be wise about our choices.
Being honest about our emotions, especially with someone else, is always a risky business. I ask myself a few questions before speaking the truth, to someone, about how I feel. First, I ask myself if the person is safe? Will they respond politely or will they attack me?
Secondly, will speaking the truth be beneficial to the relationship? Do my words matter to this person? Does the relationship have enough history to it that my honesty will be respected and perhaps, alter the relationship for the better?
Learning to be honest is, in and of itself, a practice of learning how to be honest. Without practicing honesty, we won’t get any better at being honest.
Relationships with others, whether as a wife, mom, friend or public school teacher, have always been the best places for me to practice honesty with my emotions. The most difficult place has been in the classroom. Recently though, I had the opportunity to be authentic with my fourth graders and even though it was a scary and painful moment, I believe it was a good moment for me to be candid with them.
It was a Friday afternoon and the students were cleaning out their desks as per routine at the end of every week. Papers were scattered on the floor and one of my students solemnly presented me with one he’d found near the trash can. On it were the words, “I hate the teacher.” Ouch!
While my students continued to scurry around the room to clean it up, I held onto the paper debating about what I should do with the disappointment and hurt conjured up by those words. I’d promised my students a short time outside just before dismissal, but now I knew I had to change that plan. Ignoring how I felt would only produce resentment toward my kids.
Once everything was picked up and put away, I asked everyone to sit down. Then I presented the paper with the words. The room became the quietest it’s been all year. I had their full and undivided attention, now what would I do with it? With a calm voice, I expressed how harsh the words felt.
“I can understand someone not being happy with me, I can understand someone not agreeing with me, but the word ‘hate’ feels like a kick in the gut and it hurts.” I choked on my words, took a deep breath and swallowed. I did not belabor my point, but by the time I finished being honest, the students understood how I felt.
The dismal bell rang and the kids filed out, but not before a few of them could give me a hug while others expressed an opposite point of view from the one written on the paper.
Why bother being emotionally honest? It is tough to be honest with our emotions, but tougher still to disregard the emotions we need to be honest about.